Virtual Servers Update: VMware vs. Microsoft vs. Xen

The virtualization market has seen a whirlwind of recent changes, with four key trends impacting future directions. Plus: a chart that compares offerings by VMware, Microsoft and Xen.
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Also see: VMware vs Microsoft vs Xen: 2009

What a difference a year makes with the whirlwind of the server virtualization world. New cross-platform management tools, embedded hypervisors, wider acceptance of open source methods, protocols, standards, and simplified pricing have all made virtualization much more popular with IT managers.

While the market is growing, it still represents a minor portion of the entire server marketplace – less than 10 percent, according to Microsoft representatives. What is new is that virtual machine (VM) server technology is now available and more attractive to mid-tier users for four reasons:

• The free versions are more capable.

• Prices are coming down.

• Ease of setup and management is increasing.

• The technology can help reduce power and cooling requirements just as being green is gaining traction.

Nevertheless, virtual servers are just one part of the entire virtualization market, which is growing to include all kinds of computing, from storage virtualization to streaming applications installation, to virtual desktops.

But in the past year, four trends are obvious:

1) Growth of the hypervisor: The hypervisor is now found in more places, both exploited in the latest processor chips from Intel's Virtualization Technology vPro and AMD-V, and as a standard package with most of the popular Linux distributions and soon for Solaris too. The hypervisors, or virtual machine control programs, for the three major vendors (Microsoft, Citrix and VMware) now support this embedded hardware, which makes for simplified installation and nearly one-button booting of virtual servers. And VMware has begun selling ESXi, a specialized embedded version that will begin shipping on servers imminently. HP's ProLiant servers now offer built-in support for Citrix' XenServer; older ProLiants can be upgraded too.

2) Interoperability: Interoperability has taken root, and we have seen in the past year a series of initiatives to make managing multiple VM vendors more palatable. Novell's ZenWorks VM Manager and Orchestrator products are just from one of many products that will offer a way to manage more than one vendor's hypervisor. Microsoft's SystemCenter, CA and others have announced plans to support both Microsoft's and VMware hypervisors, and Novell will also support Citrix's solution too. VMware announced several management tools that enable automation of the entire lifecycle of a VM, including staging the migration from a development/test environment into production, according to Bogomil Balkansky, the Senior Director of Product Marketing for the company. "Our customers tend to want to do more with virtual servers once they get it into their shops."

Another dimension to the interoperability story is a standards effort called the open VM format that is first expected to be finished sometime early summer. "With this format, organizations can use a standard set of VM management metadata to manage VMs running on different hypervisors. This architecture is fully extensible, allowing VMs to advertise custom configuration information, such as a virtual barcode, security requirements, or service level requirements," says Chris Wolf, a senior analyst with the Burton Group.

"While work remains, the eventual goal of these standards is to provide hypervisor interoperability, such as by taking a VM image built on the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor and running it on a Citrix XenServer hypervisor without having to modify the VM's configuration."

And as another example of increased manageability, inventory and asset management vendors such as BDNA have tools that can account for individual VMs that are hosted on virtual servers when they discover server resources across an enterprise. "This is a strong sign that the market is maturing and that customers have a choice," says Simon Crosby, the co-founder of XenSource and now the CTO of the division for Citrix.

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Tags: Microsoft, virtualization, AMD, VMware

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