In September Microsoft Canada contracted me as a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor, tasking me with evangelizing Microsoft virtualization solutions. One of the reasons I was such a good fit for the role is that I am very familiar with both Microsoft’s and VMware’s server virtualization solutions – I teach and consult on both platforms. I am a VMware Certified Professional (VCP 4) as well as a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) Virtualization Administrator.
For the past ten months I have (in an official capacity) espoused the benefits of Hyper-V and the Microsoft Server Virtualization Solutions. I have visited over thirty partners and given a dozen or more presentations to user groups; I have taught at least five full classes of 10215A to partners and end users alike, and I continually hear the same question from IT Pros and users alike: ‘What you are telling us and showing us is nice, but can Microsoft really compete head to head with VMware for market dominance? Are they really a legitimate player in the virtualization space that has for so many years been dominated by a single player?
My answer has been yes every time, and each time Microsoft releases new versions of Hyper-V – first 2008 R2, then this past winter Service Pack 1 – they come closer to technological parity. The closer they come to being an equivalent technology (and they are now closer than ever!) the more the deciding factor is going to start coming down to price… and man, does Microsoft ever win in that category!
Of course it is easy to see me as biased, but I’m sure we all agree that Gartner is unbiased. According to their latest (June 30, 2011) Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure, Microsoft has firmly taken a position in the Leaders square. For years VMware alone occupied that coveted position (based on rankings along the X-axis of completeness of vision, and the Y-axis of ability to execute). VMware (who it should be noted are still the leaders) has Microsoft and then Citrix nipping at its heels.
According to the report:
Citrix and Microsoft have joined VMware in the Leaders Quadrant by increasing vision and execution respectively. Although market share leader VMware continues to set the standard in products and the pace in terms of strategy, Microsoft has increased its market share (especially among midmarket customers new to virtualization), and Citrix is leveraging its desktop virtualization strengths and its free XenServer offering to expand its server virtualization share. The road map from virtualization to cloud computing is rapidly evolving, and executing will be very important during the next year as this market continues to rapidly evolve and grow.
Interestingly one of the factors that many of the companies I have spoken to with regard to this choice – price, and the ability to make a profit off the solution – is called out in the report as both a key strength and a weakness ‘…when it comes to influencing the channel to promote its product, rather than its competition.’ Because Hyper-V is a free product (or, more accurately, is a component of a product that the client is already buying), there is nothing more to sell… the partners cannot mark up another product.
One of the points listed in the Gartner report under ‘Cautions’ is the ‘Hypervisor dependence on a running copy of Windows as a parent operating system’ can also be viewed as a strength, because of the sheer amount of different hardware types supported, ranging from high-end server farms used in the enterprise to laptops and white-boxes that IT Pros, enthusiasts, and students may have in their basement as learning platforms. For a recent presentation I was forced to downgrade my VMware hypervisor to an older version simply because ESX 4.1 was not supported and would not even install on my demo box. To quote the report:
The most significant hypervisor difference continues to be Microsoft’s reliance on a parent operating system on each virtualization host — which carries the benefit of a proven driver architecture, but the burden of potentially more planned downtime for patching and maintenance (however, Microsoft’s patch record to date for its parent operating system has been good).
All in all, I think it is going to be hard for VMware to remain the industry leader for long. Let me be clear: they make great products. Whatever my beef may be with the company, I don’t have a bad word to say against their server virtualization technology. However with Microsoft catching up as fast as they are (System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012 is currently in beta) it is hard to see VMware remaining the industry leader for too much longer without coming up with something so dramatically new and unique as to vault them once again ahead of all other players.
I look forward to seeing vSphere 5 (possibly being released as early as July 12th); from what I have read mostly through unsanctioned sites it will be VERY interesting to see. However I still don’t see it being worth the price difference.
One thing’s for sure… it will be an interesting couple of years in the virtualization space!