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VMware vs. Microsoft: Cloud management is the new battlefield

For an accurate view of the competition between these industry titans, it’s best to look at the big picture in private and public cloud, experts say.

The virtualization market has moved beyond hypervisor comparisons, and private cloud management is where the true enterprise IT battle exists between Microsoft and VMware, according to experts.

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Comparing private cloud vs. public cloud application support

Five years ago, it was easier to line up the hypervisors side by side and compare features and price, according to Jonathan Eunice, principal IT advisor at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. But the emerging private-cloud model requires such a broad-based buy-in to a vendor’s strategy that comparing virtualization tools has become nearly irrelevant.

“It isn’t just, ‘Do I buy an orange or an apple today?’ It’s, ‘Am I investing in the future of apples or the future of citrus products?’” Eunice said. “It’s a whole different animal.”

Microsoft’s “all you can eat” strategy
For companies that buy in to Microsoft’s strategy, private-cloud software is now an all-you-can-eat buffet. The list price of $3,607 per socket (or $5,056 per socket under the Enrollment for Core Infrastructure [ECI] program) for System Center 2012 Datacenter Edition now includes Operations Manager, Configuration Manager, Data Protection Manager, Service Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, Endpoint Protection, Orchestrator and App Controller.

Transitional license entitlements are also offered to existing Microsoft customers. For example, each System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 license entitles a customer to one System Center 2012 Suite license.

For those already invested in Microsoft tools, the new System Center pricing is a boon.

“The less time I’m spending with licensing, the better off we are, because that means I’m doing more IT-related things,” said Patrick Wirtz, manager of technology innovation at The Walsh Group, a contractor and construction management company based in Chicago. “VMware has become pretty challenging when it comes to how it’s licensed and where it’s licensed.”

Instead, the company has gone with Microsoft’s ECI licenses for System Center 2012.

“We’re basically licensed to use their entire suite on any server that we own in the company,” Wirtz said. “Just to be able to have that blanket statement and not having to remember which one’s which and how we’re supposed to manage it and license for it is great for us.”

Others consider their flexibility limited, because they have to buy the entire suite to get the pieces they need.

“I don’t know a lot of people who are using System Center … all the way through unless you’re a consulting company that specializes in the Microsoft stack,” said Rob McShinsky, a senior systems engineer at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. “I’d like to roll into [it] and once I get to a certain amount [of products], transition my licenses over to Datacenter.”

VMware’s “a la carte” strategy
VMware’s menu-based approach offers more flexibility, but if IT pros want the whole kit and caboodle, they may pay a pretty penny through per-VM licenses.

VMware vs. Microsoft: Pricing wars

VMware vSphere vs. Microsoft Hyper-V: Which is cheaper?

Microsoft, VMware offer deep discounts to gain virtualization market share

Are Hyper-V savings worth the cost of a VMware rip and replace?

To get Microsoft System Center-equivalent features from VMware, customers would have to buy four separately licensed products: VMware vCloud Director; vCenter Operations at the Enterprise level, which includes vCenter Configuration Manager; vFabric Application Performance Manager; and vCenter Site Recovery Manager (SRM) Enterprise. A fifth, vCenter Orchestrator, is included with vCenter.

VMware vCloud Director is licensed at a list price of $3,750 for a 25-VM pack. VCenter Operations Enterprise starts at $195 per VM. VFabric Application Performance Manager comes in at $360 per VM. SRM Enterprise is priced at $495 per VM. In a 500-VM environment, if every VM was licensed, the VMware environment cost would rise by at least $600,000.

One IT pro who likes VMware’s vCenter Operations suite said he won’t put it in production because of cost.

“No matter what anyone says, the product that has the most hooks and insight into vSphere environments will always be a VMware product,” said Maish Saidel-Keesing, a virtualization administrator for an Israeli technology company. But “people were not happy with the move to per-VM [pricing] for vSphere products, myself included.”

Others say it will take some time before IT shops are ready to transition to the private-cloud chargeback model that would best complement per-VM licenses.

“Per-VM licensing for things like SRM makes sense, but not for the hypervisor or management utilities,” said Christian Mohn, a senior infrastructure consultant for EVRY Consulting in Bergen, Norway. “As we move to a more service-based infrastructure, per-VM…payment makes sense, as long as IT organizations are able to bill their… internal customers. If the IT organization isn’t equipped that way now, it makes everything harder.”

Still, some VMware devotees feel they get what they pay for.

“Per-VM pricing is required when you think about the cloud model,” said Charles Gautreaux, a senior engineer at a large financial services firm. “No longer can you price blocks of infrastructure when the consumption model has shifted to individual virtual machines.”

New IT infrastructure models emerge
What if the future unit of deployment for IT isn’t a Microsoft Virtual Hard Disk or a VMware Virtual Machine Disk format but an Amazon Machine Image? What if it’s all or none of the above? These are questions that companies must also consider, as they decide whether to invest in products from Microsoft or VMware.

Microsoft has its Azure public cloud, and VMware has its vCloud. But when it comes to public-cloud services, these two companies also face a tough battle with cloud software deployment models and software stacks, such as Rackspace’s OpenStack (backed by Hewlett-Packard Co.) and Citrix Systems Inc.’s CloudStack as well as Inc.’s Web Services.

“I see the next move not being, ‘Hey, I’m going to go and do a vCenter-based management environment on my virtual infrastructure [instead of] a Microsoft management environment’ but, ‘I’m going to go to something that’s … going to be hypervisor-agnostic and cloud-agnostic.’” said John Bythrow, systems and solutions engineer for Open Sky Corp., which consults with large firms in the Hartford, Conn. area.

“Microsoft has a very short time period in which to frame their argument that they’re cheaper,” he said.

In the final part of this four-part series, we consider whether cost savings on licenses are enough to justify ripping and replacing the underpinnings of an entire virtual infrastructure.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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