The Great Debate: Virtualization Experts Butt Heads

On March 5th ZDNet hosted an on-line debate between two industry experts on server virtualization (http://www.zdnet.com/debate/hyper-v-or-vmware/6348000). Jason Perlow (cleanly on the Hyper-V side) and Ken Hess (squarely and religiously in the VMware corner) are both recognized industry experts for whom I have a great deal of respect.  I did not watch the debate live, but I have read the transcript (available at the link listed) and am surprised by a few of the responses, which I would like to address here.

While most of you know, I would like to clarify my position for the sake of transparency: While I am certified in both Hyper-V and VMware technologies, my bread and butter is Microsoft; I have lived in that space for most of my career, and am a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor (Core I/O) with Microsoft Canada.  With that being said, all of my virtualization certifications are up to date (MCITP: Virtualization Administrator 2008 R2, VMware Certified Professional 5) on both technologies. 

I do not have a bad word to say about vSphere 5.  VMware has another winning technology on their hands in my opinion.  Where I feel they have fallen short is in their pricing model.  As Hyper-V Server and the System Center suite keep closing the gap technologically, I would have expected VMware to take the threat seriously, sharpen their pencils, and lower the costs of licensing (and supporting) their solutions.  Instead in July they announced their new Memory Allocation pricing model, which is costing companies more and not less without deploying any new solutions.  A colleague was telling me recently that their customer had been advised by VMware (not by a Partner, but by VMware proper) to build servers with more and more memory, and to build their VM environment based on that model because of course the CPUs were the only cost.  Three months later the new pricing model was announced, and their licensing jumped from $18,000 per year to $96,000.  It is stories like these that are making many VMware shops reevaluate their positions, and start to consider Hyper-V as a real alternative.

Having read the debate transcript through and through a number of times, as well as the comments, My position on one thing has been reaffirmed: Having the debate with proponents of VMware is akin to trying to debate religion with a zealot.  I have the greatest respect for Ken, who has proven himself a superior IT professional.  However many of his arguments are telling that he is so vehemently pro-VMware that he has not bothered to do his homework on Microsoft, and does not seem to have done his homework for this debate.  To wit:

“Microsoft has a chance to claim a small percentage of the market’s growth over the next few years but will never encroach on VMware’s pole position.”

It sounds to me like Ken is drinking the VMware Kool-Aid… “We are the best, always will be, and nobody could ever catch us.” Oh Hare, I would like to introduce you to the turtle.

“Microsoft’s Hyper-V is basically an attempt to enter a committed market.”

I am sure that Microsoft hopes that VMware continues to think this way… if they continue to jack up their prices as if their customers just don’t have a choice, they will eventually realize that customers (and yes Ken, even the CxOs who make the decision and measure potential downtime in the cost of a product) that Hyper-V is as good as we have been saying, and that they are already paying for it with their license for Windows Server… and most of these companies also have System Center running, so why wouldn’t they look at a more cost-effective solution to do the same thing?

“if you’re a Microsoft fan, you have to admit that you’ll probably wait until the Windows Server 8 R2 version and a couple of service packs before you take the plunge for anything production-oriented. If you don’t, then you haven’t learned any lessons in the past two decades.”

While I understand that older versions of the operating system did release with some bugs (notice vSphere U1, U2) the legacy mindset that you still have to wait until R2 SP1 is just folly.  Windows Server 2008 was as solid as any OS on the market, and the services packs and R2 releases have just made t better.  If VMware is banking on people holding out for another eighteen months after RTM of Windows Server 8 then I would remind them that hey… even if that were true (it isn’t) Server 2008 R2 SP1 is out now, and has been for a year – and is considered the most stable operating system on the planet.  If people are not going to Server 8 then watch out for the ones who VMware is angering with their Memory Tax who will go to that platform.

“I know that Microsoft touts their new Hyper-V as a "free" solution but it isn’t free. You still have to buy the license for the base operating system from Microsoft.”

Aside from the fact that VMware shops that use Windows Server in their environments also have to buy the license for the base operating system, I would point out (as Jason did) that Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 is a free platform (equivalent to ESXi) that does more for free… For the features that VMware touts as necessary (vMotion, High Availability, monitoring, DRS, DPM) you have to buy the appropriate license of vCenter Server, PLUS the vMotion (etc…) licenses per ESXi host.  All of those are available for free with Hyper-V Server (Live Migration, Failover Clustering, monitoring, CPU Core Parking).

(In response to the question: How easy is it to migrate from a Vmware infrastructure to a Hyper-V infrastructure? “I’ve never done it nor do I know anyone who has. My guess is that currently, you’d have to reconstruct all of your virtual machines in Hyper-V. “

Here’s why you should never come to a debate unprepared.  System Center Virtual Machine Manager (current version as well as the soon to be released VMM 2012) has the ability to easily and seamlessly manage ESX and ESXi hosts through vCenter Server allowing a company who wishes to begin the migration process to do so without ripping and replacing existing infrastructure, and without having to manage and monitor two separate environments during the transition (which can take several years if necessary).  While the old VMware hosts are retired, rather than purchasing licenses for new servers they can deploy new Hyper-V Servers, and the heterogeneous environment can be fully managed from the single VMM console. 

While VMM does offer the option to perform V2V (virtual to virtual) conversions and migrations from VMware to Hyper-V seamlessly and easily (and without standalone tools, as is required in vCenter Server), it is not necessary to do so – you can use the single console to manage your complete environment until all of your ESX hosts are retired.

“from a hardware point-of-view, you’ll probably have to upgrade your hardware to run Hyper-V. Yes, even Server Core. Think of the Celsius to Fahrenheit temperature conversion formula when you think of converting from VMware to Hyper-V; double your current hardware requirements and add 32.”

Ken is sure that to migrate a host from ESXi to Hyper-V you would have to upgrade the hardware, and in most cases that is simply not true – the Hyper-V hypervisor may use slightly more resources than ESXi, but not nearly enough to require new hardware.  In fact, one of the advantages of Hyper-V is that it is based on the Windows kernel… in other words, if your hardware works with Windows, it will almost certainly support Hyper-V.  For datacentre admins that may not be a big issue – like most IT Pros I am a huge proponent of deploying server-grade hardware that is tested and approved… but how does a novice get started out learning Hyper-V? They install it on a workstation or a laptop, play with it, break it, and fix it.  VMware simply does not allow you to do this, and novices – even seasoned IT Pros who want to learn the product – have a great deal of trouble starting out.

I have been saying for years that IT should not be a religion… it should be about using the best tool for the job, and that means being willing to listen to alternatives and keeping an open mind that sometimes the solution you have been using for years may no longer be the smartest one.  That is why I bought a Macbook Pro a couple of years ago… it is why I learned Active Directory when Novell Netware was still the world leader… and it is why I started learning Hyper-V, after so many years working with VMware.  Don’t get me wrong… For three years after I started playing with Active Directory I still ran both AD and Netware… and to this day I am still consulting on and teaching both vCenter and Hyper-V (as well as maintaining my certifications).  The world changes – now people can get fired for buying IBM… I no longer adore my 64, and Hyper-V is a player in the Server Virtualization market… if you don’t believe me, check out the Gartner Magic Quadrant.  Those who embrace it will be well equipped to give their customers the proper balanced advice.  Those who deny it will be like all of my friends who collected CNE (Certified Novell Engineer) ribbons because Windows networking would never take off.

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