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'Good enough' Microsoft Hyper-V starts turning more heads

About three years ago Embotics jumped into developing support in its private cloud management platform for Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor, hopeful that the VMware virtualization challenger would take off. When that takeoff initially stalled, Embotics curtailed its Hyper-V work to focus resources elsewhere.

But over the past six to eight months, Embotics saw a big increase in customer interest for Hyper-V -- so it resurrected its efforts and earlier this month officially rolled out support for the Microsoft platform.

"It's finally good enough," says CEO Jay Litkey of Hyper-V. "It's finally ready."

[ BACKGROUND: VMware, the bell tolls for thee and Microsoft is ringing it ]

Embotics isn't alone in expanding support for Hyper-V. OpenStack, the open sourcecloud computing platform, did likewise: Hyper-V was originally supported in the project, but was later dropped until the most recent Grizzly release of the code, which now supports both Hyper-V and VMware ESX hypervisor.

Around the time of this month's Microsoft Management Summit a host of companies rolled out support for Microsoft's suite of management tools, with more than a handful of them extending their platforms to support Hyper-V. Other announcements included:

  • Amazon Web Services announcing its Storage Gateway now runs in Microsoft Hyper-V virtualized environments, in addition to VMware ESXi architectures. The gateway is a software appliance that acts to synchronize data between customers' on-premises data and Amazon's cloud (Simple Storage Service or S3 specifically) for file backup, disaster recovery or sharing.
  • Cisconow supportingWindowsServer 2012, which includes Hyper-V, and Windows Systems Center VM Manager in its Unified Computing System (UCS), including the Microsoft management tools being certified to work on Nexus 1000V Series hardware, as well as on Cisco/NetApp partnership gear named FlexPod; and in Cisco/EMC partnership packages called VSPEX.
  • Hitachi Data Systems announcing its unified computing platform (UCP) now supports Windows Server 2012 and Windows Systems Center.
  • Virtual machine backup specialist Veeam announcing broader support for Hyper-V in the Virtual Lab v7 release of its Veeam Backup and Replication software, which allows users to reboot VMs directly from compressed or deduplicated backup files. Vision Solutions, another provider of disaster recovery and high availability services, expanded its support to include not only Hyper-V, but now Windows Azure, Microsoft's infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud platform.

So what does it all mean? Mark Bowker, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, says it's common for providers to make news at shows like the Management Summit but that "the frequency and sheer quantity of them points to something bigger. Microsoft has really come around in the last year or so." The release of Windows Server 2012 and Windows Systems Center, plus improvements to the Hyper-V virtualization platform have all caused IT professionals to take a closer look at the Microsoft's virtualization offering, he says.

It is still a bifurcated market though, with VMware's ESX hypervisor holding a dominant position. But Hyper-V is catching up and is growing market share, according to Bowker and Litkey. "In the majority of use cases, both solutions are very solid," Bowker says. "VMware still has a very significant footprint, but Microsoft has the potential to disrupt."

Microsoft makes the case that its management tools, like Windows Server and Systems Center, are part of a broader "Cloud OS" strategy that includes the company's Azure public cloud, as well as offerings from cloud service providers using the Microsoft platform. "Microsoft is the only company that offers customers the flexibility of a consistent hybrid cloud platform that spans customer datacenters, hosted service provider datacenters and the Microsoft public cloud," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an email. "Customers can use the same core technologies - including virtualization, systems management, identity, development tools and database - across all three clouds."

Where are the cloud providers?

But Bowker says Microsoft has not done as good of a job as VMware, OnApp and OpenStack supporters at getting third-party providers to use its cloud management technology as the basis for their offerings. Microsoft points to providers like OVH and Hitachi Systems as being among cloud service providers using Cloud OS, but there's a decided lack of brand-name providers using it. "Microsoft's Cloud OS strategy is triangular, but it really focuses on the on-premises and Azure services," Bowker says. VMware, meanwhile, has more than 100 providers using vCloud Director as the basis for their clouds, including providers it lists on its website such as Bluelock, CSC, Dell, Internap, NaviSite and Savvis.

Embotics CEO Litkey says Hyper-V as a virtualization platform still has a ways to go to catch market-leading VMware ESX. While Hyper-V improved in the last year and is a stable, solid platform, ESX outdoes it in areas such as resource contention -- distributed resource scheduling (DRS) and vMotion, for example -- as well as in automation, scheduling, affinity provisioning, memory sharing and compression.

Still, analyst Bowker says in most cases Hyper-V is a "good enough" alternative to ESX, especially since it's included at no additional cost with a Windows Systems Center license, making Hyper-V more attractively priced than VMware in many circumstances. Combined with powerful new management tools in Systems Center and Windows Server, specifically related to managing large-scale environments, Hyper-V is giving more IT professionals a reason to look at the Microsoft virtualization platform, he says.

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.


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