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VMware shops eye new System Center 2012 licensing for virtualization

Microsoft may gain some ground against VMware this year. The company simplified System Center 2012 licensing and continues to support unlimited virtualization management per host.

It’s clear that there will be a showdown between Microsoft’s Hyper-V and VMware’s vSphere this year and the rivalry is sure to benefit virtualization users.

On Tuesday, Microsoft launched a volley in the form of simplified licensing and pricing for virtualization management under its System Center suite.

With the new release candidate of System Center 2012, eight previously separate management products  were folded into one offering. Microsoft also simplified licensing to two editions -- Standard and Datacenter -- which both include all the products in the System Center suite. Microsoft retained its policy of supporting unlimited virtualization management per host in the Datacenter edition, rather than putting a cap on it.

“There’s been an architectural shift with a lot more capabilities for virtualization management, such as performance management and automation, threaded through the System Center products,” said Mary Johnston Turner, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC’s Enterprise System Management Software Team.

VMware in the crosshairs
Microsoft officials made no bones about the competitive target under the new bundling and licensing scheme: VMware, Inc., which by contrast has charged separately and on a per-VM basis for management products such as vCenter Operations and Site Recovery Manager since vSphere 4.1. With vSphere 5, VMware also introduced virtual RAM entitlements.

VMware changed its licensing model in the name of moving users towards a cloud-like, consumption-based licensing model, rather than leaving licensing in the realm of physical CPU sockets. Some users have argued that per-VM licensing is actually more efficient than per-socket licensing, because users only pay for what they need.

VMware customers consider Hyper-V
Microsoft also has yet to release the next version of Hyper-V under Windows Server 8, which is needed to complete the competitive picture against VMware.

Still, Microsoft has caught up with VMware vSphere in terms of basic features such as live migration, and VMware customers have noticed.

“Our VMs right now are probably 2-to-1 VMware to Hyper-V, because we’ve been using VMware several years,” said Scott Ladewig, networking and operations manager for Washington University in St. Louis. “New stuff is all going to Hyper-V and I see a point down the road where it’s only Hyper-V.”

Nasser Mirzai, vice president of operations and IT for Lyris Inc. in Emeryville, Calif., has some Windows servers, but the primary operating systems that his team runs are Red Hat Enterprise Linux or CentOS. Still, he said, Microsoft offers “an attractive proposition,” adding that he has heard good things about the practicality and the stability of Hyper-V.

“The bundle pricing from Microsoft is definitely making it attractive... still, having other OSes running on Microsoft’s hypervisor is a challenge,” Mirzai said.

VMware offered no comment on Microsoft’s new packaging and licensing model.

System Center 2012 licensing details
The Standard Edition license is for physical servers or lightly virtualized environments. It covers two physical processors and up to two of what Microsoft calls Operating System Environments (OSEs). Datacenter Edition is licensed per socket and offers cross-platform virtualization management for an unlimited number of VMs per physical host. Prior to the change, Datacenter Edition licensing was per processor. 

Both licenses bundle the previously standalone System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2012 and introduce another new virtualization offering in the form of Server App-V.

In addition to the license bundling, there’s some new integration between the products, as well. For example, an alert in Operations Manager automatically kicks into Service Manager for remediation, which kicks into the Orchestrator app that utilizes SCVMM to perform the remediation task, said Rob McShinsky, a senior systems engineer for Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

“From the demos, it’s more unified than it has been in the past…but [there’s] not one single pane of glass to manage all of [the different products],” McShinsky said.

For the new Datacenter bundle, the list price is $3,607 per socket. By comparison, the System Center Server Management Suite Datacenter license fee was $1,310 for each per-processor license, according to Microsoft’s Partner site.

Since Datacenter Edition licensing moved from per-processor to per socket pricing, a straightforward comparison is tricky. As part of this rollout, Microsoft is working to clarify the pricing with customers and partners directly, according to specific situations and future needs, a Microsoft spokesperson said via email.

McShinsky said the new pricing is higher than the previous Datacenter bundle, but he isn’t sure how much the street price will be compared to the list price going forward.

There are still questions surrounding what this change means for Microsoft customers who had Enterprise edition, which was eliminated.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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