Will Virtual Iron Stop the VMware Freight Train?

Probably not, but the small virtualization vendor appears poised for greater name recognition.
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The virtualization market inspires a lot of speculation about the elbow-in-your-eye competition between the various players. Who’s pulling ahead and who’s running behind?

For example, is market leader VMware, having lost a passel of key staffers, about to suffer some erosion? (The chattering class seems to think so.)

Will Microsoft, once again late to market, eventually dominate with its still-nascent Hyper-V? (Divided opinion on total victory, but general agreement that Hyper-V will be a leader.)

And what about scrappy Citrix, with its $500 million purchase of open source XenSource – can its virtualization revenues reach top levels? (Fair to partly cloudy based on industry scuttlebutt, but the jury’s still out.)

Oh, and don’t forget about Oracle. A dark horse in virtualization, but big-bucks customers will always take a phone call from this entrenched vendor. Also crowding the market are Red Hat, which just purchased virtualization firm Qumranet; and Dell, which leverages its server strength.

A vendor that usually gets mentioned toward the end of this list is Virtual Iron. Although the company launched a server virtualization product in 2006 – and claims 2,000 clients – its profile so far remains low.

Andi Mann, research director at Enterprise Management Associates, calls Virtual Iron “a top five virtualization vendor.” Yet it’s clearly back of the pack. Mann’s research firm conducted a survey that asked business executives: “Which of the following server virtualization products, if any, do you have or are you planning to implement?”

VMware ESX was top rated, with 82 percent; Microsoft Hyper-V garnered 32 percent, Citrix XenServer, 21 percent; Oracle VM, 11 percent; Virtual Iron scored 8 percent.

Despite its modest profile, Virtual Iron is taking aim at the market leader. One of Virtual Iron’s key sales pitches is “Comparable features to VMware, without the cost and complexity.”

Certainly the price aspect of that claim is solid. Virtual Iron offers a virtualization product for $799 a socket. (Making an apples-to-apples price comparison in virtualization is difficult, because buyers face a blizzard of related choices and licensing issues, yet the $799 is clearly competitive.)

And the company’s technology is at least comparable to other vendors’, based on this recent chart from research firm Gartner:

virtualization vendors

[Editor's note: at Gartner's request, Datamation has replaced the chart originally posted in this article with a more recent chart.]

So given that the company’s prices are competitive and its technology is – roughly – comparable, why is the Lowell, MA.–based company so little known? I asked that question of Ed Walsh, Virtual Iron’s CEO.

“I would say we’re the unsung hero,” Walsh says. “As a small company I have a lot of advantage against a big guy and I have some disadvantages. Microsoft can come out with a substandard product and get market share – I can’t. I would not have been able to get to 2,000 clients if my product did not do what it does.”

The bulk of Virtual Iron’s 2,000 customers are small- and medium-sized businesses – the SMB sector is the firm’s strongest. With 84 employees, Virtual Iron is itself a small business. By comparison, VMware has 6,300 employees and claims 120,000 customers. (And it’s owned by tech giant EMC, which boasts 400 sales offices worldwide.)

And that, simply put, may be why Virtual Iron has yet to build a profile equal to some of its competitors. In the virtualization market – so far embraced more by bigger clients – large enterprise favors large vendors. In this league, price is less of an issue.

Yet Walsh insists that Virtual Iron’s offering is comparable to VMware’s. As he tells it, this David and Goliath pairing is closer than it seems due to the quality of Virtual Iron’s management software.

As any virtualization vendor will explain, the battle is no longer about the core hypervisor; now it’s whether you offer a multi-faceted management layer that implements rules and policies automatically. “If you’re elegant from the beginning, either by luck or by strength of engineering team, you’re able to keep up toe-to-toe with the behemoth,” Walsh says.

In truth, though, Virtual Iron’s closest competitor is not behemoth VMware but instead XenSource, which is owned by software giant Citrix. Both Virtual Iron and XenSource are based on the open source Xen hypervisor. And both are dwarfed by VMware, with its 75 percent of virtualization installations.

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Tags: open source, Microsoft, virtualization, VMware

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