Windows Server

Does a free VMware bare-metal hypervisor hurt Hyper-V?

VMware has made their ESXi hypervisor product a free download from their web site. Will this hurt Microsoft's foray into the virtualization market? Scott Lowe thinks it will, at least for the short-term.

Last week, VMware announced that it was changing the price of its bare-metal entry-level hypervisor, ESXi.  The new price: free.  We all know that virtualization is one of the hottest trends out there and Microsoft has been a little late to the enterprise game in this regard, releasing only a stopgap product, Virtual Server 2005, a few years ago.  On the hypervisor side, Microsoft is just getting there with the release of the anticipated Hyper-V.  VMware has had a huge head start in this space, so Microsoft is facing a significant battle anyway.

In simple terms, ESXi, a bare-metal hypervisor, is a full-blown ESX with the service console stripped out.  By removing the service console from the hypervisor product, VMware manages to get the total product footprint to 32MB.  Yes, MB, not GB.  As a result of this tiny footprint, server manufacturers are beginning to embed ESXi on their servers.

When compared against ESX, there are some shortcomings in ESXi that, in my opinion, limit it to smallish deployments.  ESXi stops being free if you want to add high-end features such as VMotion and High Availability.  On the management side, you can still manage a single ESXi server with the VI client as you have always been able to but if you want better management through VirtualCenter, that's also not free.

To be fair, Hyper-V isn't really free.  Sure, it's included with a Windows license, but you still have to buy that Windows license to get Hyper-V.  ESXi is truly free... as in, it's available for download (for free) from VMware.  And the System Center tools Microsoft is developing for Hyper-V won't be free either.  Hyper-V does have an MMC-based management console for single server management, just like ESX's VI client option.  On the management side, that puts ESXi and Hyper-V on a level playing field.

So will this move by VMware hurt Microsoft?

In the short-term, I think it will.  VMware is synonymous with enterprise-grade virtualization.  Microsoft is just getting into the space.  I know that some organizations haven't moved ahead with even baseline server consolidation products due to the cost of ESX, but that roadblock has now been removed.  Will organizations choose to try out virtualization using ESXi or Hyper-V?  Windows licenses aren't cheap to come by, but ESXi is.

In larger organizations, I think VMware is safe.  ESX is tried and true infrastructure and it keeps getting better.  Entire data centers have been reduced to a few servers based on ESX with VMotion and High Availability.  Microsoft can't yet come close to matching this capability... yet.

We've opted to use ESX with VMotion at Westminster College.  We're not a large place, but ESX is simply the safe bet and has the features we need.

What do you think are the prospects for Hyper-V with a free ESXi on the market?

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

10 comments
Howard Holton
Howard Holton

1. ESXi being free is a HUGE advantage to any company looking at VMware for their virtualization, or one that already has VMWare HA and would like to add more hosts to the infrastructure but do not need VMotion/Virtual Center/HA on all of them (and there are plenty of cases for that.) 2. The licensing of Windows does not change at all, though if you are looking to virtualize a non-windows host you will introduce a cost savings. 3. Please make sure that you understand how MS licensing works: Server Standard = 1 license, either Physical or Virtual, but not boh Server Enterprise = 1 Physical and 4 Virtual Server DataCenter = 1 physical and unlimited virtual Datacenter tends to price out better on a DualCPU system at 6 VM's so we tend to price DataCenter on all hosts. Microsoft license are also attached to a single physical host, so if you have a DR plan in place to hot, or cold, migrate hosts from one VM host to another in the case of server failure the licenses DO NOT MOVE WITH THE VM. You need to make sure that if you could run 12 VM's on the single host in the case of a down server you have licenses for those 12 VM's assigned permanently to that single host - even if you only run 3 full time. I have never, never recommended that a copy of Windows Server Standard be purchased to use in a VM environment. Also - if you are doing P2V migrations the Windows licenses have to be re-purchased as the license stays with the hardware. NOTE: The possible exception is if all the license affected by the virtualization are on a VLA - you can assign and reassign them a certain amount of times to different hosts, so if you take a VLA server and P2V it you can reassign the license, but you cannot "dynamically" assign licenses in a VMotion type situation - that is outside the intent of the VLA (or any other) licensing scheme. Hence the recommendation of Data Center licenses. 4. Microsoft has some amazing pricing on the System Center suite when considering Virtualization. They have a new bundle pricing for SC at MSRP of $700 for VLA customers. The license is attached to hardware and covers all the Windows VM's running on that single physical host. With a large VMWare or Hyper-V hosting 20-25 VM's $700 total is not a lot to pay for VMM, Config Manager and the host of SC tools. *** I have not used VMM with ESXi, though it does work with ESX.

randy.c
randy.c

I went through the installation of ESXi on a standalone server. There didn't seem to be any way to install a RAID controller driver, so it could only use a single disk drive. Low end users who don't have a SAN will prefer Windows 2008 and Hyper-V.

ymous
ymous

All the tech bloggers continue getting this wrong the "installation footprint" wrong. ESXi is not a 32mb footprint, but rather a 560mb footprint. The "vmkernel" (hypervisor) has only 32 mb footprint, but the vmkernel does not/cannot boot baremetal. ESXi does nto have a "supported" console in the tradition of ESX, but there really is a console. ESX bootstraps with Redhat Linux wherease ESXi bootstraps with Busybox which has a much smaller footprint and the inability to install agents on it. So there you have it. This time it's no charge.

Lukas Kucera
Lukas Kucera

Hi, According to MS (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/scalability-ent.aspx) Standard edition of 2008 including "Virtual image use rights" = 1. And exactly from Q&A about licensing: Q. If I have one license for Windows Server 2008 Standard and want to run it in a virtual operating system environment, can I continue running it in the physical operating system environment? A. Yes, with Windows Server 2008 Standard, you may run one instance in the physical operating system environment and one instance in the virtual operating system environment; however, the instance running in the physical operating system environment may be used only to run hardware virtualization software, provide hardware virtualization services, or to run software to manage and service operating system environments on the licensed server. (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/licensing-faq.aspx) So you are wrong in point 3. You are also wrong about DataCenter, they can be obtained only in per CPU model, no other model is possible. Frankly, i will thing only about DataCenter for MS Virtualization, other option is rare. SC prising is really cool, you forgot possibility to use SC DPM and SC OM only...

kdpawson
kdpawson

Not sure what hardware you installed it on, but I have it on a IBM Blade STD with RAID enabled and hooked up to a IBM DS4700 FC SAN. With Virtual Center installed you would not know it was ESXi all the features still present and working. I also run it on a clone machine at home with 3 SATA drives for testing. My question is why would you want to use ESX instead of ESXi?

Lukas Kucera
Lukas Kucera

What is not mentioned also is the size footprint of Hyper-V hypervisor < 1MB against VMWares 32MB... License issue: Yes Hyper-V will cost you Windows 2008 Server license (~999USD) but you have the right to use this license to run on bare metal and in one virtual instance so if you Virtualize Windows it will cost you nothing. ESX on baremetal (free) + 1 Windows Server (999USD) = 999USD Hyper-V on barematl (999USD) + 1 Windows Server (free) = 999 USD

mikedatl
mikedatl

I think we're getting some terms mixed up here. Yes, the Hyper-V hypervisor is < 1 MB. vmkernel (the VMware hypervisor) is also < 1 MB (about 64 k if memory serves me right). A hypervisor alone doesn't do you any good - you need some way to get I/O through the box. The hypervisor is basically a glorified traffic cop of sorts. I'm oversimplifying but that's pretty much all it does - schedule VMs and allow for the hardware abstraction. In order to get I/O through you need some real drivers. In Hyper-V they use the real Windows drivers in the parent partition (Windows Server 2008 full or core). In VMware the drivers are baked into ESX or ESXi. This is where the real size difference comes into play Also note there are 2 flavors of ESXi - embedded (for the OEMs) and installable. ESXi embedded is about 32 MB. It's small because it only needs one set of drivers for the hardware it's going to run on. ESXi installable (the one you're downloading from the website) includes a much larger set of drivers since it can be loaded on any number of servers. That's the main reason for the size difference in the ESXi versions. In Hyper-V you need that parent partition hanging around for the drivers amongst other things. With a server core (the light version of Windows) install it's about 3 GB. With a full Windows 2008 install it's over 6 GB. So with the newfound knowledge what's being compared is 32MB for ESXi embedded or about 200 MB for ESXi installable versus 3 GB for Hyper-V with Server Core or over 6 GB for Hyper-V with full Windows. Notice that the hypervisor really doesn't play into all of this talk at all since it's pretty much a wash either way. What does this size difference mean anyways? Basically it means that with ESXi you get only the code necessary to run VMs and that's it. With Hyper-V you get the code to run VMs plus you have to drag along Windows in order to make it all run. I don't even want to open the can of worms on Windows security at this point but you can see where the argument can go.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

is not a 32 or even 232 MB footprint, but performance and stability. DoesESXi have better performance then Hyper-V? It will need it to keep ahead of Hyper-V and the MS marketing engine, as well as the "bundled in with every thing else" effect MS counts on so much.

mikedatl
mikedatl

There's been a lot of talk about the $28 Hyper-V server. Given Microsoft's stellar track record of shipping stuff on time (not) let's just stick to what's here and shipping and what we know the numbers for. As for all of the problems with ESXi driver set - not sure what everyone else is doing. I went out to Frys, bought 2 ASUS motherboards for $122 each, 2 AMD processors for $75 each, 2 cases for $15 each, 2 power supplies for $$0 (after mail-in rebate), 2 DVD drives for $15 each, and 2 250 GB SATA drives for $98 each. The ASUS motherboards had on-board GigE and SATA controllers and video cards. These are workstation class - not server. Anyhow, I threw it all together, went home, downloaded ESXi off the VMware website, installed it, and in about 1.5 hours (that includes the time to put the servers together) I had 2 nice ESXi hosts. Either I got REAL lucky with the off the shelf parts I bought without checking the compatibility list or I just don't have the curse of bad IT mojo everyone else seems to have with installing ESXi. Either way I can assure you that ESXi runs on AMD chips. I can also assure you that it runs on NICs other than Intel. Lastly I can tell you that I have 2 ESXi hosts even running inside a VM on VMware Fusion 2 Beta 2 on my Macbook Pro.

gglawits
gglawits

...one that already has been released - it is simply called "Hyper-V" and runs on top of Server 2008 or Server 2008 Core, and one that hasn't been released yet, it's going to be called "Hyper-V Server" and is basically a hypervisor that runs on the bare metal (though it will probably use the existing tried-and-true Microsoft device drivers internally). How large it's footprint is going to be is the $64000 question - but probably somewhere in the middle between the 32 Mbyte that have been floating around here and the 3 GByte for Hyper-V on top of Server 2008 core. Several hundred MBytes would be my guess, and that's cool. Let's discuss hardware compatibility for a moment: ESXi doesn't run on AMD processors (tried it - crashed), it doesn't run on an IDE drive (wants a SATA or SAS drive), it doesn't want a Realtek NIC (wants an Intel NIC). Not that this is a big deal for commercial users, but for playing with it at home it sure is. Is ESXi or Hyper-V Server going to be more versatile with respect to the hardware it runs on? My bet is squarely on Hyper-V server.

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