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Virtualization wars: VMware vs. Hyper-V vs. XenServer vs. KVM

Ten years ago the argument over virtualization would have been a short one because VMware was the only game in town, but that early dominance is now being significantly challenged by Microsoft, Citrix and Red Hat (KVM).

NETWORK WORLD'S HOTTEST TECH ARGUMENTS: Read them all

And Microsoft is on the offensive because of the forthcoming upgrade to Hyper-V coming with Windows Server 8. New features put it "on par and in some ways better than VMware," according to Aidan Finn, a Microsoft IT consultant in Dublin, Ireland. He says Hyper-V outstrips VMware in inexpensive server-attached storage, aspects of live migration and failover for site-to-site disaster recovery. Plus Hyper-V will have capacity access more virtual CPUs than ever before.

This flurry of improvements is in addition to progress Hyper-V has been making against ESX in licenses issued. Hyper-V grew 62% last year compared to ESX's 21% growth and Citrix's 25%, according to IDC. Separately, Gartner projects that by next year Hyper-V will account for 27% of the market, up from 11% two years ago. Within that projected 27%, Gartner says Microsoft will have captured 85% of all businesses with less than 1,000 employees that use virtual servers.

Year-to-year growth is significant because the number of X86 servers being converted to virtual servers is also growing dramatically. Gartner says x86 boxes will grow from 11 million virtual machines in 2009 to more than 55 million next year.

Meanwhile, Citrix, which Gartner projects to hold 6% of the market next year, is making strides working off its base of virtual desktop customers and recent assertions that it will drop prices next year to be less expensive than traditional physical desktops.

The company recently came out with a new version of its virtual server- XenServer 6.0 - that supports better sharing of CPUs among virtual machines and boosts its overall support for virtual CPUs to 16 and 128GB of virtual memory. That's still less than half what VMware and Red Hat support. And Citrix is continuing its collaboration with Microsoft to support management of each other's virtual environments. In the latest version, XenServer will be manageable from Microsoft's upcoming Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager. Citrix's XenCenter already supports managing Microsoft hypervisors and virtual machines.

Red Hat has perhaps the most work to do, with Gartner projections for its share of the market next year only 2%. But it has aggressively been working to make its virtual environment more manageable and robust. With the acquisition of Qumranet Red Hat gained kernel-based technology to run on its Linux platform. As such, Red Hat is a clear option for Linux shops.

Red Hat's KVM efforts will most probably get a boost from IBM, HP, Intel, all of which are members of the Open Virtualization Alliance, which is dedicated to encouraging use of open virtualization technology. The established customer bases of these other vendors can only help the spread of Red Hat's virtual environment.

Tech argument: Virtualization vs. native apps

The virtual server market is growing rapidly and the dominance of the various players is shifting, so VMware's early lead is being chipped away, leaving customers with a lot to ponder, Gartner says, particularly those smaller customers just adopting virtualization. Microsoft's Hyper-V is just 3 years old yet its price and integration with other Microsoft products make it a popular choice for mid-sized businesses that that lack resources or the inclination to call on a separate virtualization vendor.

"While the majority of Global 1000 enterprises have been virtualizing for several years, many smaller enterprises and those in emerging economies are just starting out, or haven't started yet," says Gartner. "These enterprises have several viable alternatives from which to choose."

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.


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