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Key criteria for selecting the best hypervisor

If you're looking to introduce virtualization into your data center or considering a second hypervisor, there are many viable options available.

Not long ago, selecting a hypervisor for enterprise-class server virtualization was a relatively simple task. Until recent years, VMware was arguably the only server virtualization platform that was truly mature and enterprise ready. Today, things aren't quite so simple. Organizations selecting a server virtualization platform have a number of different options to choose from.

Needless to say, choosing the best hypervisor for your needs is an important decision with long-term implications. That being the case, there are a number of key criteria that you should consider prior to making a decision.

One of the first considerations is price. In the world of ever-shrinking IT budgets, price matters like never before. Even so, there are two important things to consider with regard to price.

Price and ownership costs

In the world of ever-shrinking IT budgets, price matters like never before.

First, you must consider the total cost of ownership, not just the purchase price. This means evaluating factors such as the cost of guest OS licenses, hardware, training and support.

As you evaluate the total cost of ownership, don't forget to factor in the cost of any required management tools. The more popular commercial virtualization platforms typically include basic management tools, but these tools are typically inadequate for managing anything beyond very small environments. The vendors usually offer better management tools for an extra cost. VMware, for example, sells vCenter Server to help manage larger VMware deployments. Similarly, Microsoft sells System Center Virtual Machine Manager as its preferred virtualization management tool.

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Even the vendor's premium management tools might not deliver all of the functionality that your organization will ultimately need. Many organizations find that the vendor tools work fine for day-to-day management, but that they must invest in third-party tools for things like reporting, auditing or capacity planning.

Reputation, support and ecosystem

The other thing to keep in mind is that price isn't everything when it comes to choosing the best hypervisor for your needs. It does little good to save a few bucks if doing so means that you end up with a service that does not meet your organization's needs.

Another important consideration is the virtualization platform's reputation. What do those in the know have to say about the products that you are considering? Are they stable and reliable? Does the vendor provide good support? How long has the product existed?

Yet another thing to consider is the IT staff's existing knowledge. Although not an absolute requirement, it is a good idea to choose a product that is at least somewhat familiar to those who will be configuring and supporting it. Imagine for a moment that a particular organization is a Windows shop and that all of the organization's servers are running Windows. While there is technically nothing stopping the organization from adopting a Linux-based, open source hypervisor, it wouldn't be the most comfortable transition for the IT staff. The learning curve associated with such a transition would be much steeper than might be the case for Microsoft Hyper-V.

Hardware compatibility

You also need to consider your current hardware. If, for example, you are planning to repurpose some of your existing hardware for use in the virtualized environment, will that hardware work with the virtualization platform you are considering? Is it officially supported? Some of the virtualization vendors maintain strict hardware compatibility lists, which outline the hardware that they will and will not support. In some cases, these lists go beyond the basic hardware, and also extend to drivers and firmware.

Even if you are not planning to repurpose existing hardware, hardware is still a consideration. Hardware purchase and support plays a major role in the overall cost of a server virtualization project. Furthermore, the hardware you purchase must be certified to work with your virtualization platform. The easiest way to guarantee compatibility is to invest in hyper-converged systems that have been logo tested by the virtualization vendors. But, of course, there is no rule that says that you have to use hyper-converged systems. You are free to use standalone components so long as they meet the vendor's requirements.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as a perfect server virtualization platform. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the available virtualization products. You must evaluate the various options based on meaningful criteria and choose the best hypervisor to fit your own unique needs.

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