VMware customers cast a wary glance at Microsoft's virtualization tools

VMware customers attending VMworld are taking a look at Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization software, but say the Microsoft technology falls a bit short and that it would be problematic to start over after investing heavily in VMware.

VMware customers attending VMworld are taking a look at Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization software, but say the Microsoft technology falls a bit short and that it would be problematic to start over after investing heavily in VMware.

The investment in VMware involves not only money but also the time and training it takes to build institutional knowledge about the IT world's most-used x86 virtualization platform.

The hottest virtualization products at VMworld

"I suppose we are a VMware shop, so we kind of stick with what we know more than anything else," said Chris Bennett, a VMware ESX administrator at Linklaters, a law firm in London, England.

Linklaters has virtualized 80% of its servers with VMware, but recently considered adopting Hyper-V for a project to virtualize servers in small branch offices around the world. Using Hyper-V, a free add-on of Windows Server, would have saved some money. But the law firm instead stuck with VMware for the branch office project to avoid complications in IT management. This, for example, allows Linklaters to use the same virtual machine templates in branch offices as it does in the data center.

"We decided against ] purely because of the in-house knowledge we have of VMware," Bennett says.

In addition to customers' knowledge of VMware technology, VMware's use of long-term enterprise license agreements (ELA) makes it difficult to switch, says Nik Gibson, the enterprise desktop practice leader at Forsythe, a technology consulting firm. Gibson is also a former employee of both VMware and Citrix.

"VMware does a great job getting ELAs out to customers. If you've invested that heavily, you're probably not going to be bringing another hypervisor into the mix," Gibson says. "VMware's done a great job locking a lot of these big customers in."

Bennett says Hyper-V is a good product overall and that some of his staff members use it informally for test and development. The only major problem Bennett sees in Hyper-V is its organization of storage, which he says is more complicated than VMware and more difficult to manage.

The same issue was reported by Josh Gray, an engineer at Aurora Bank in Denver. Aurora uses VMware for its server virtualization deployment, but Gray says "I've played around with Hyper-V, just really briefly in a Microsoft lab."

Gray says connecting storage to virtual machines requires more steps in Hyper-V than it does in VMware, making the management process a bit more of a hassle.

"Microsoft has a long way to go [in virtualization], kind of like their mobile phones," Gray says. "It will have to be extensive, groundbreaking stuff in order to really steal that market share."

Raci Dearmas, lead engineer at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Wash., also tested Hyper-V and says "It was a lot more complex to manage. Not only that, but having a team that is already familiar with VMware, to go to something totally different and manage two separate systems wasn't ideal for us."

Configuration of virtual LANs is one area in which Dearmas says Hyper-V was problematic.

"It's just a less mature product," says his colleague, Joseph Wolfgram, director of IT at Overlake.

Another VMware customer, systems administrator Jason Morris of Fermilab outside of Chicago, says he hasn't tried Hyper-V yet but that the high price of VMware is making Microsoft look like a decent option. The recent addition of live migration into Hyper-V makes the product more viable, he says.

"The cost of VMware is definitely making [Hyper-V] look a little more interesting to me," Morris says. "It's something that I'm definitely interested in looking into.”

Microsoft is trying to argue that Hyper-V can be adopted by even the largest enterprise customers, noting that Fortune 500 company CH2M Hill is phasing out VMware in favor of Microsoft. But even in that case, CH2M Hill says it will take three to five years to get rid of VMware, in part because of existing software licenses and maintenance contracts.

Microsoft virtualization chief Mike Neil boasts that Hyper-V market share is growing faster than VMware's. "I feel pretty confident that we’re on the right track," he says. "Obviously, we've got customers deploying it in enterprise environments."

VMware CEO Paul Maritz tried to throw cold water on the market share argument, though, claiming that VMware is still the clear leader when it comes to large virtualization deployments. He suggested that Microsoft's rise in market share is due to a large number of people using Hyper-V for small projects.

"By any measure, in terms of serious usage of hypervisors in businesses we are far and away the company with the largest market share," Maritz said in a Q&A session with reporters. "Now, that being said clearly Microsoft is a company with enormous resources."

VMworld in San Francisco is VMware's customer event, so it's not surprising that attendees are wary of switching to Microsoft's Hyper-V. But nearly every company in the Fortune 1000 uses VMware, and all of the companies in the Fortune 100 are VMware customers. Microsoft would be hard-pressed to convince a majority of those customers to switch, but it's definitely on the table for smaller companies that are just getting started in virtualization.

"Typically, when we see demand for Hyper-V from customers it's usually for a monetary purpose," and in cases when the customer is starting a new virtualization deployment, says Anoj Willy, a solutions architect for INX, a reseller that partners with both Microsoft and VMware.

Bennett says if he were starting a brand-new virtualization project he'd examine VMware, Microsoft and Citrix's XenServer, but probably still choose VMware for production applications.

While Microsoft has improved Hyper-V it does still fall short of VMware in terms of uptime and stability, Willy of INX says. Although Hyper-V has live migration now, it can't move as many virtual machines concurrently as VMware can, he added.

"It's just not there quite yet, in terms of production capabilities," Willy said, while noting that "Microsoft is a goliath" with a big marketing and R&D budget and the "ability to push into markets" led by others.

But for now, Gibson says he's not getting a lot of demand for Microsoft, at least when it comes to which server virtualization platform customers use on the back end of virtual desktop deployments. "I haven't seen much Hyper-V at all," Gibson says. But "that could be because we deal with a lot of big enterprise accounts."

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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

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