Has VMware won the Hypervisor war? … and who cares anyway… (Hyper-V 3 & SCVMM 2012, RHEV 3, XenServer)

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I’ve made it a habit to kick off every larger presentation by asking the audience to indicate adoption of virtualization in their environment. Suffice to say that even just 2 -3 years back barely 10% would indicate any serious evaluation or large scale production use outwith the VMware realm.
And when I talked enthusiastically about Virtuozzo, XenServer, VirtualIron and Hyper-V the eyes of many glazed over until we came back to VMware. And it is difficult to describe but there was (is) a distinct pride, an admiration, almost the feeling of a “cult following” among the VMware users.

Just 2-3 years back barely 10% would indicate use of hypervisors other than VMware – forward to 2011 and over 50% are actively evaluating alternatives …

Forward to end-2011 an the landscape has seriously changed.
Today I barely run a session where less than 50% of the audience lifts their hands and while indication of large scale production use is still limited, the appetite for virtualization alternatives is incredible.
A survey in spring 2010 showed that 78 percent of the 243 respondents said they were using VMware while 38 percent said Microsoft Hyper-V. In the 2011 survey of 250, the gap closed to 59 percent for VMware compared to 53 percent for Hyper-V. Citrix XenServer users doubled year over year from 9 percent to 18 percent of respondents. (statistics on market share vary greatly and are often skewed due to free downloads which don’t result in production use).

2012 will be the first real year of a “hypervisor war” and it will decide the battle in the private IaaS cloud market and its interconnected cloud layers (PaaS, SaaS etc) …

Just two weeks ago I had a client exclaiming that VMware has won the hypervisor war years ago and moved on to fight the cloud war. What war? Let’s face it, there were merely a few “uprisings” without real alternatives…
I’m risking to sound over-dramatic but 2012 is shaping up to be the first real year of a “hypervisor war” and it will directly impact the battle in the private IaaS cloud market and therefore shape the entire ecosystem of the interconnected cloud layers (PaaS, SaaS etc).

What has changed?

  • VMware has evolved from the cool underdog that couldn’t get it wrong even had they tried, to one of the “big players” now subject to the same scrutiny when releasing a new product or changing licensing.
  • Partner loyalty in some areas is exposed, there is increasing portfolio overlap (competition) with their large OEM partners (a critical route to market) and an unsettled technology-partner community that takes a sigh of relieve every time the latest VMware product has not erased it’s ecosystem by branching out into their (management, backup, storage etc) territory. All open to alternatives …
  • Most importantly – the arrival of competitive products will seriously challenge VMware’s position. Most will not challenge VMware’s technology leadership but they will aim to provide (at least) ”good enough“ alternatives or vertical  solution to gain market share. They will target the cost-conscious customer segment (and who doesn’t fall into that category today?) as well as customers desperately looking for a multi-supplier strategy to enable price-negotiation leverage when dealing with VMware.

    So who are the contenders? (and don’t mistake this as an anti-VMWare rant given my genuine respect for the company)

The Contenders

Microsoft
VMware’s biggest threat will undoubtedly be Microsoft with it’s new System Center 2012 release in the first half of 2012 (possibly April). Do not make the mistake and discount this release as “one of those minor “updates”. Especially the new Virtual Machine Manager is clearly an altogether different animal and having followed it since the initial beta in March I can only advise to spend some time evaluating it.

… imagine all the annoying shortcomings SCVMM has today had been magically addressed and add some impressive cloud functionality on top … now you are pretty close to what SCVMM 2012 will look like …

How to best summarize the improvements without going into detail …?
Well, think of all the shortcomings that annoy you with with the current version of SCVMM (whether the awkward dependency on SCOM when implementing DRS-like function, the non-integrated high availability, lack of vApp-like constructs and power management as well as the inflexible virtual network etc etc … ).
Got it? Now imagine most of those shortcomings had been eliminated/improved … then add a fundamentally different fabric management and service template approach, bare metal deployment capability and put an impressive private and hybrid cloud functionality with App Controller (Concero) on top … done …? Now you are pretty close to what SCVMM 2012 will look like (more details in a previous post or here).

It’s important to understand that the SCVMM release will address the hypervisor management layer, not the Hyper-V layer itself. However, the end of 2012 will also see the release of Windows 8 and with it Hyper-V version 3, which will address today’s underlying scalability and functionality limitations. A good summary of what’s to come is here.

HyperV3


Microsoft will have a strong contender by YE 2012 even if you take the – in the meanwhile ongoing – evolution of VMware’s product portfolio into account and many of my recent clients have confirmed that they are actively evaluating it.

Red Hat
One of the biggest surprises at VMworld Europe for me was the interest in our setup of Beta RHEV 3 (Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization). The feedback made it clear that the improvements in this release finally allow Red Hat to provide a credible “good enough” alternative and that not only for clients specifically pursuing an open source based alternative.
My initial impression was “wow, the GUI is very intuitive (yes, I have to admit vCenter-like in some respects … and that is a good thing).

RHEV3

Red Hat has finally ported its RHEV Manager to Java, JBoss and PostgreSQL, removing the dependency on Windows (except for the client which still has some dependency on .Net in this release). RHEV 3.0 also has a nice little “power user” portal that allows users to create and manage their VMs.
There are still a couple of basic things Red Hat needs to (and will) address in the next releases, the lack of live snapshots and live storage migration among them.
Besides the user experience, one of my major concerns with RHEV has always bee the lack of a consistent API and the challenges that poses for the much needed build-up of an ecosystem around RHEV (by enabling ISVs and OEMs to easily create extension) – therefore the addition of a RESTful API for integration with RHEV Manager is extremely welcome.
RHEV already had the advantage of a unified console for server and desktop virtualization and the graphical user experience with the SPICE protocol on our setup in Copenhagen was seriously impressive.

Red Hat is unlikely to challenge VMware head-on but will gain market share by identifying vertical stacks and targeting suitable customer segments that are craving for alternatives or open source based solutions

RHEV 3 (currently public beta) will be released early next year and in conjunction with the previously discussed Cloud announcements Red Hat has an opportunity to make an impact – not broadly challenging VMware head-on but by identifying customer segments and workloads that are craving for alternatives or open source based solutions.

Citrix
Now I really wish I could confidently add XenServer/Center to the list of contenders for 2011 … I have never made a secret of my admiration for Citrix to create (for a long time the only) credible alternative to VMware, sustaining to innovate again and again and to provide a free version in a space totally dominated by VMware and with a Microsoft relationship that makes clear positioning tricky. And it’s not the lack of functionality that makes me hesitate, XenServer/Center 6 is looking strong, but the lack of a well communicated vision for the role and integration of XenServer in Citrix’s Cloud plans.
After announcing project Olympus (OpenStack + XenServer) which reassured the importance of XenServer, the acquisition of cloud.com (managing multiple hypervisors with the CloudStack platform) makes the future role of XenServer unclear. Combined with the fact that Citrix happily collaborates with Microsoft to allow System Center 2012 to manage XenServer and therefore essentially exposes it’s own future virtual infrastructure control point is not reassuring.
Can XenServer seriously survive a Hyper-V 3 onslaught even if Citrix decided to (seriously) take on Microsoft (which is unlikely anyway).

There is a lack of a well communicated vision for the role of XenServer in Citrix’s Cloud plans – can XenServer carve out a niche as VDI Hypervisor?

What’s the alternative ..? Citrix is likely to find its vertical “niche” in the cloud business (and e.g. the end-user computing one is not a small niche). XenServer could help fulfilling that very role if Citrix focussed further on the creation of a true VDI hypervisor. Currently we still see the majority of XenDesktop deployed on vSphere but with more vendor specific optimizations like IntelliCache and GPU passthrough Citrix could carve out a niche for XenServer.

Why should we care?

But why should we even care about the boring old hypervisor in the age of Cloud Computing?
Many increasingly (and mistakenly) describe the hypervisor as “replaceable commodity” with little vendor stack dependency. And yes, if you looked at this thin abstraction layer in isolation you would have a case but that would also imply that seamless mult-hypervisor management (to enable “rip and replace” of Hypervisors) is a reality today.

Seamless mult-hypervisor management is not yet reality – today’s solutions are merely marketing tick boxes and strategic directions rather than usable alternatives ..

It isn’t … efforts like Microsoft’s SCVMM’s capability to manage VMware environments and VMware’s XVP to manage Hyper-V are today merely marketing tick boxes and strategic directions rather than usable alternatives. The mammoth effort involved in creating full replacements providing the equivalent functionality to the native vendor management app and the challenge to keep up with the constant flow of new (competitive) vendor releases casts doubts that this will soon become a reality.

So be wary of such messaging – feedback from my clients almost unanimously show that – while all would love to have this “single pane of glass” management for heterogeneous hypervisor environments – they prefer to use multiple native vendor tools (with full functionality) to a single tool (with only a subset of functionality).

Without today’s vSphere footprint there would be no case to use vCloud Director – any hypervisor market share loss will directly impact the VMware’s private cloud market share

Make no mistake, VMware’s strength is the foothold in the virtual infrastracture space, directly influencing the higher management layers – without the vSphere footprint there would be no case to use e.g. vCloud Director (which manages exclusively vSphere environments). Any hypervisor market share loss will directly impact the VMware’s private cloud market share. So yes, we should absolutely care about these dynamics.

It is important to understand that this dependency does not necessarily apply to the higher cloud management layers. We have already seen many examples of 3rd party cloud management platforms successfully drive the underlying e.g. vSphere or KVM-based infrastructures as independent target resource pools.
More on this topic in one of my next rambles … ;)

So it’s undoubtedly going to be an interesting year but with VMware continuing to innovate at incredible speed the main question remaining is how much of this “appetite” for alternatives will also result in “consumption” … ?

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