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Server virtualization platform comparison: VMware vs. Microsoft

VMware's server virtualization platform leads the market, but Microsoft Hyper-V is catching on. Use this server virtualization comparison to help decide which is right for you.

This server virtualization platform comparison provides an overview of VMware and Microsoft, the two biggest players in the server virtualization market.

VMware, the market leader and pioneer, is the primary server virtualization platform for more than 76% of organizations, according to TechTarget's "Virtualization Decisions 2010 Purchasing Intentions Survey." Microsoft Hyper-V and its predecessor, Virtual Server, have 13% of the server virtualization market, according to the survey.

Other vendors in the server virtualization market include Citrix Systems, Red Hat and Oracle. Citrix XenServer is the primary platform for 3% of organizations, according to the survey. Neither Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, which uses KVM technology, nor Oracle VM, which is based on the open source Xen hypervisor, crossed the 1% mark.

Understanding how VMware and Microsoft approach the market will help you choose which server virtualization platform is best for your organization. Use this server virtualization comparison to start that process.

VMware's server virtualization platform, vSphere
VMware offers two hypervisors: ESX, its traditional product, and ESXi, a scaled-down hypervisor that is available in a free version. The hypervisor is just part of VMware's overall server virtualization platform, vSphere, which replaced Virtual Infrastructure in April 2009.

With the release of vSphere 4.1 in June 2010, VMware said it will only update ESXi going forward. This news led to some ESX vs. ESXi debate, but most users realized they would have to move to ESXi eventually.

Depending on the edition, VMware vSphere offers live migration (called vMotion), High Availability, Fault Tolerance and other features. In addition, the vSphere server virtualization platform includes vCenter Server for management. Administrators can configure, provision and monitor virtual machines (VMs) with vCenter, which also offers management and database servers, a search engine and more.

Additional capabilities are available in vCenter Server Foundation Edition, which manages up to three servers, and vCenter Server Standard Edition, which manages an unlimited number of hosts. Several third-party vendors make management tools for the VMware server virtualization platform as well.

Microsoft's server virtualization platform, Hyper-V
Microsoft entered the server virtualization market with Virtual Server 2005, but it wasn't until the 2008 release of an all new hypervisor, Hyper-V, that the software giant began to pick up steam. The Hyper-V R2 release in 2009 added Live Migration, Cluster Shared Volumes and other features. And the March 2011 release of Hyper-V R2 Service Pack 1 added Dynamic Memory, Microsoft’s answer to VMware’s memory overcommit feature.

Hyper-V comes in two versions: a standalone hypervisor and a hypervisor included in the Windows Server 2008 operating system. Hyper-V is free, but you have to pay for Windows Server. At an additional cost, the Microsoft System Center software suite and System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) manage Hyper-V and VMware environments. With SCVMM 2012, unveiled in October 2010, Microsoft promised to add new features that would compete with VMware vCloud Director.

There are not as many third-party Hyper-V management tools available as there are for VMware, but more are coming out as Microsoft attracts new customers to its server virtualization platform. One such example is the Virsto One Hyper-V storage tool.

VMware vs. Microsoft in the server virtualization market
Understanding the products that VMware and Microsoft offer is the most important part of figuring out the server virtualization market. But a server virtualization comparison isn't everything. You should also pay attention to the dynamic between the two companies.

Although more and more organizations are running mixed virtual environments these days, VMware vs. Hyper-V is still a very hot debate among the vendors and their supporters. The companies regularly take each other to task over which is cheaper and works better. And these marketing efforts occasionally get them into trouble.

Microsoft, for example, handed out poker chips with the message "VMware costs way too much" at VMworld 2008. At VMworld 2009, as possible retaliation, VMware banned demonstrations of Hyper-V and other competing products on the show floor. Microsoft drew a lot of heat for its "Microsoft Mythbusters" video as well, which was criticized as misleading and embarrassing.

VMware also came under fire for a video in 2009. This one was posted anonymously on YouTube, and it showed Hyper-V crashing while running VMware's VMmark platform. But Hyper-V crashed because it was running unsupported VMmark configurations, which the video didn't mention. The video came down and the employee who posted it was forced to apologize.

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