Virtualization

Can Microsoft tame the mighty VMware beast?

Microsoft wants to own the cloud. But since clouds are built on virtual platforms, that means they need to get serious about beating VMware at its own game.

What does "all in" really mean? It means Microsoft wants to own the cloud -- both the public and private varieties. To do that, they need to own the virtualization space as well, because virtualization software is one of the four basic software components on which clouds are built -- along with server software, management software, and security software.

To its credit, the company seems to realize that many organizations are not ready, willing, or able to trust their data and applications to the public cloud. So as much as they might be pushing their own cloud services -- Azure, Office 365, Intune -- their cloud strategy is all about options. If you're into do-it-yourself cloud computing, they have a solution for you: a combination of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP 1 Hyper-V and System Center that they call Hyper-V Cloud.

As the name suggests, the Hyper-V hypervisor technology is a core component of the Microsoft private cloud. But as with many other products, Microsoft is still playing catch-up in the virtualization space, as they aim to unseat the market leader, VMware. There are other players, of course. Red Hat's KVM and Citrix's XenServer are the two most prominent, but when it comes to virtualization, VMware is the one to beat.

Coming from behind

The good news for Microsoft is that Hyper-V's market share has grown (although it's difficult to dig out hard figures), whereas VMware's has dropped, albeit slowly. Gartner predicted that by 2012, Hyper-V would have 27 percent of the global virtualization market with VMware at 65 percent (down from 84 percent in 2009 and 76 percent in 2010). As I've discussed before, coming from behind to slowly overtake the competition has long been a winning strategy for Microsoft, but some have suggested that Hyper-V's market share has grown more slowly than expected and that might even have been a factor in the departure, early this year, of Bob Muglia as head of Server and Tools Business.

VMware got a big head start. They have been making virtualization software since 1999 and have an extensive offering of virtualization products, from VMware Workstation (which was their first product) to ESX and ESXi (enterprise-level bare-metal hypervisor implementations). vSphere is their cloud platform, which grew out of a product called VMware Infrastructure 3, which was released in 2006. What was to be VMware Infrastructure 4 was released in 2009 and was called vSphere instead.

VMware is expected to launch vSphere 5.0 at its July 12 event in San Francisco. One of many changes in the new version is expected to be a move away from a Windows-based console to a web-based one, which seems to signal a further subtle decoupling from the Microsoft ecosystem. This has been going on since GSX Server (a Type 2 or hosted hypervisor that ran on Windows) was phased out and replaced by ESX (a Type 1 or hostless hypervisor that runs directly on the hardware without an underlying operating system).

 

Courtesy of CNET

 

Microsoft is also reported to be working on a new version of Hyper-V (3.0) that includes a number of enhancements. Leaked reports have focused primarily on Hyper-V on the desktop, rumored to be a part of Windows 8. This opens up much speculation and all sorts of possibilities. I'm imagining a scenario where you could have two virtual machines running on one physical computer, with one for your work system and the other for personal tasks.

From the user's perspective, the effect would be like Virtual Desktops on steroids. From a management and security perspective, companies could have complete control over the "work computer" and still allow users to access Facebook, personal email accounts, and such on the "personal computer." Nothing done on the personal computer would affect the work computer. If properly implemented, you could switch between the two using a simple key combination. How cool would that be?

Does this change everything?

Currently Microsoft has a bit of a split personality when it comes to virtualization. Hyper-V is in the server operating system only, while desktop virtualization is dependent on Windows Virtual PC. WVPC is a free download that supports XP Mode in Windows 7 Pro, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions. WVPC is the latest version of Microsoft Virtual PC (2007 and 2004), which was based on Connectix Virtual PC (which Microsoft bought in 2003).

Virtual PC has always been a bit quirky, and although it has improved over the years, the current version is no exception. I've worked with both WVPC and Hyper-V, and the latter is far more stable in my experience. WVPC (like Microsoft Virtual Server) is a Type 2 hypervisor. Hyper-V is a "true" hypervisor that accesses the hardware, although the Hyper-V role on Windows Server 2008 R2 runs Windows as a "privileged guest." Hyper-V Server is the "bare metal" version.

So whoever heard of a true hypervisor running on a desktop operating system? And why would anyone want one? Some have suggested that a good, stable virtualization platform built in to the client OS would allow all applications to run in VMs, increasing both backward compatibility and security. It would also make it a lot easier for users to have their Windows cake and eat Linux, too. Some have gone so far as to say this will fundamentally change the way users work.

Is it enough?

While putting Hyper-V in Windows 8 could certainly help Microsoft take over the desktop virtualization market from VMware Workstation (especially considering that VMware Workstation costs $189, or $99 to upgrade from a previous version), they'll have to do more to dominate in that private cloud space they're eagerly courting. I suppose one could look at the Windows 8 Hyper-V as the "gateway drug" that Microsoft will give away for free, hoping that once IT folks try it and see how much better it is than Virtual PC, they'll be impressed enough to think that maybe they should give Hyper-V Server a try, too. And that might work, to some extent, especially when it comes to new deployments.

But getting a large customer base to switch from vSphere virtualization environments will require more compelling advantages. VMware has a loyal fan base of longtime users, and winning them over won't be easy.

Beat them at the bottom line

One way to compete is on price, and the company claims to provide more features than vSphere at one third of the cost. A real-world cost comparison is difficult because of differing licensing methods. For example, total cost of Hyper-V is dependent on whether you use the Standard, Enterprise, or Datacenter edition of Windows Server 2008 R2 or the standalone Hyper-V Server, and licensing for those is per-host whereas vSphere licensing is per-CPU.

Additionally, Virtual vCenter Server is priced at one amount to manage the full infrastructure, whereas System Center Server Management Suite is priced per processor. Nonetheless, if Microsoft can demonstrate significant actual cost savings -- both up front and ongoing -- that could be a powerful draw for companies in these still-tough economic times.

More important than absolute numbers is the issue of value --getting the most features and functionality for the money. To beat VMware, Microsoft will have to show that it's not just the "cheap solution" but also the best.

At your service

It's important to keep in mind that the private cloud is all about service's automation - giving users the applications they need without the administrative overhead those applications traditionally require. Here Microsoft has the advantage of deep insight into the major tier-one services that are deployed in a private cloud: email, messaging, collaboration, database, CRM, VDI. Microsoft fully understands these services because, after all, they make the software. Just as they need to push their ability to integrate the Windows Phone OS more tightly with Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server etc. better than any other phone OS, they should use their extensive experience building these tier-one services to persuade customers that a cloud built on Hyper-V will better integrate with said services.

Management matters

Some would say hypervisors are becoming commodity items; they're often given away for free (Microsoft Virtual PC, Microsoft Virtual Server, Hyper-V Server, VMware Server/GSX Server, VMware ESXi, XenServer). Thus the real "value added" lies in the management tools. Microsoft has built a robust management infrastructure, and it is becoming more so.

 

Courtesy of CNET Asia

 

Microsoft's strategy here is to extend the management tools into the applications that run in the VMs. System Center can provide very comprehensive application-level monitoring and management, and Microsoft is positioning it as the best overall management solution because it's compatible with VMware in side-by-side deployments. This is important because many companies are not going to suddenly dump VMware for Hyper-V, but they will be willing to try Hyper-V if they can deploy it alongside their existing VMware deployments.

Much as Microsoft would like Windows Server to be the basis of all virtualized services, in order to win over VMware customers, they need to position Hyper-V as OS-neutral and emphasize that there are management packs available for other operating systems, such as Red Hat and SuSE Linux.

It's all about the options

I think of Microsoft as the company that gives me plenty of options. I know this drives some people crazy, especially in the consumer space. I constantly hear complaints that Windows 7 comes in too many editions. But I like that about Microsoft, and I think they can play up this factor in the virtualization market, as well.

For example, VMware offers a VDI solution, but Microsoft offers VDI or Remote Desktop Services (terminal services) with App-V and Windows RemoteApp. They're also offering many deployment options for the private cloud, ranging from complete "do it yourself" (with detailed instructions) to a "fast track" option where Microsoft partners such as Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, and HP provide an appliance-based solution.

Multiple options give customers flexibility and more control, but the problem with having many options is that it can add complexity that requires more effort to deploy and manage. To beat VMware, Microsoft will have to show that their products will simplify customers' lives rather than introduce added work. They should emphasize how System Center can be used to manage the entire infrastructure, including VMware virtual machines, and try to win customers over on a "slow and steady" basis rather than trying to sell them on migrating to a whole new virtualization platform all at once.

Security, security, security

One of the biggest headaches in operating an on-premise IT infrastructure, as well as one of the top concerns about moving to the cloud, is security. Despite all their efforts to build security into their products from the ground up through the Trusted Computing initiative, Microsoft still suffers from the public perception that their products are not secure. Hyper-V is seen by many as "inherently insecure because it runs on Windows."

To beat VMware, Microsoft must tackle this perception from two angles: (1) show that Windows Server 2008 R2, kept properly updated, is a highly secure OS and (2) decouple Hyper-V from Windows in the minds of the public by placing more emphasis on Hyper-V Server vs. the Hyper-V role in Windows Server.

Microsoft also needs to come up with a counterpart to vSphere's VMSafe (for integrating third-party security solutions into the virtualized environment) and their Site Recovery Manager (for automating the disaster recovery process). These are two big selling points for vSphere.

Marketing makes it or breaks it

Microsoft's market prowess (or lack thereof) is a subject for an entire column of its own, and I'll do that one day soon. Suffice it to say that experience has shown over and over that having a great product at a great price isn't enough to ensure success. You have to know how to get your message out to those who make the buying decisions.

 

Image courtesy of ZDNet

 

Microsoft has the same marketing problem with Hyper-V that they have with Windows, Internet Explorer, Windows Phone, and pretty much all of their products. They build a version that has many fundamental flaws and then improve on that as time goes by. After a few tries, they have a pretty good, solid, competitive product, but because first impressions are so strong, many people are stuck with perceptions that once were true but now aren't (Windows crashes all the time; Windows is woefully insecure; IE offers an inferior browsing experience).

The biggest challenge Microsoft faces in gaining market share from VMware is how to present the next generation of Hyper-V (which is rumored to have some really spectacular improvements) in a way that will overcome all the outdated or misconstrued perceptions (that it doesn't support load balancing, that it doesn't have storage migration, that there is no clustered file system, that it's not scalable enough for the enterprise).

Summary

If Microsoft wants to be the main player in the private cloud space, they need to set their sights on VMware. Microsoft's initial foray into virtualization with Virtual PC and Virtual Server seemed half-hearted at best. IT pros tried those products and found them sorely lacking in comparison to VMware. Now VMware's reputation as the best (and, in the opinions of many, only) platform for building a virtual infrastructure is deeply entrenched. Hyper-V 3.0 is in the same position as Windows 8 -- it needs to knock our socks off.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

21 comments
maxi
maxi

Enjoyed the unbiased ideas of the article, Debra. I am just a independant PC guy at the edge of IT but I have been running seperate VMs on my own PCs for the last few years using VMWare workstation. It is so nice to have my accounting PC seperate from my surfing PC which are both XP`s. Backups, restores andsecurity are a dream and considering I have hosted the same VMs on XP, then Vista and now W7 I totally agree with your point that if Microsoft is going to do it, they will either have to buy or beat VMWare. Maxi

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

Also more stability comes into play. With vmware running on a small linux kernel (could be any unix) minus a lot of other OS overhead for the host, is very stable and provides a much better and more robust memory and storage management that the windows OS can. Also having more specific virtual hardware support for the windows guests makes running an windows guest VM much more stable than windows running on hardware alone. Until Microsoft ditches trying to run with their own windows OS as the host and gets a better kernel or better, they could use a Linux kernel :-)

knudson
knudson

I've said it again and again. Msft could wipe VMWare out, easy. Don't waste time competing with VMWare. FIX WINDOWS, why do I need 10 servers (physical or virtual) to run 10 applications. Remember z/OS can run hundreds, thousands of applications at once, all on one box. You Linux lovers don't get out easy either, same exact problem. No applcications can corrupt another or the OS, no application can takeover the box. Why can't Windows or Linux.

grahamc2
grahamc2

There???s a non technical reason why Microsoft will do well in the virtualisation market; they have deep pockets. I???ve come across two customers recently were they offered a financial incentive directly to the customer to implement Hyper-V, if they agreed to be a case study. In both cases the customers found it a compelling offer and agreed. http://grahamsblog4444.blogspot.com/

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

I honestly don't think that Hyper-V is "taking" any marketshare from VMWare -- I think the numbers going up for Hyper-V are what I'd call "IE syndrome" -- it's bundled with Server 2008 already. If you want to start virtualizing servers and/or services, it's *already there*. I think the entire market is growing (possibly in part due to a greater distribution of Hyper-V) but everything I've seen thus far is people who are happy with VMWare stick with it. I don't see this segment shrinking. However, you have other segments like: people who are on a budget and can't afford to pay for any virtualization product, they'll use VirtualBox OSE. Also, people wanting to virtualize their MicroSoft servers (DHCP, DCs, etc.) are generally encouraged to use Hyper-V (gosh, wonder why... ;-) ). Where I work, in the last 3 years, we went from 2 VMWare servers to 4, 4 Hyper-V servers to 8, and 0 VirtualBox servers to 6. Even though there are more VMWare servers than before, the "market share" is reduced because of the introduction of other critters into the ecosystem. ;-) IMHO, I really do think VirtualBox is doing more to decrease VMWare's market share than Hyper-V -- I'm quite surprised that Oracle hasn't managed to b0rk it up royally... yet... Laterz! "Merch"

Vandy-SJ
Vandy-SJ

Good article Debra! Regardless of which hypervisor you favor, you make good points that Microsoft should be considering. VMware is going to be tough to beat, but Hyper-V does bring other features and products that have value too. I think one question will be, "who can use our hypervisor - startups, SMBs, IT shops, data centers - and for what applications, services, and platforms?" Virtual computing adoption is still growing - and may someday become the de facto standard platform - so we are still in this evolution.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

If Microsoft wants to be a serious player in the virtual market, they have a long way to go. Sure their share is up, but the side-by-side comparison shows many disparities. And new MS products have a long history of poor reliability. If a single virtualized platform running under VMware crashes to BSOD, it's no big deal. Just kill the virtual machine and restart it. If Windows Hyper-V is the Kernel Executive for the VM, a Hyper-V crash means every server goes down. For my $0.02, Microsoft just doesn't have the good track record of reliability that VMware does. I don't want to be the one getting the phone calls when the customer's 6- or 8-virtual server box crashes to BSOD requiring reboot, with the resulting outages multiplied many times over. And what happens when MS bundles Hyper-V with Windows? They surely will not do it as a free throw-in, so it means there will be many more versions available, with an exponential increase in confusion. (think: Win-Pro, Virtual-Pro, Ultimate-Virtual, ... OMG!) For now, I'll stick with VMware.

Craig_B
Craig_B

Microsoft is slowly creeping up though has a ways to go. I have been using VMware for years and have found it to be very solid with great performance and features. (It's the market leader for a reason). With Windows 7 Enterprise I played around with Windows Virtual PC and XP Mode, both way under performed compared to VMware. Running VMware Player with Unity is a far better experience. I can also run Linux and Windows x64 systems in VM Player that VPC doesn't even touch. On the server side ESXi is great, while Hyper-V is sluggish.

cbader
cbader

First of all ESX is about what, 30MB or so to install and can run off of a flash drive. Much more flexibilty than Hyper-V which needs and install of Server 2008, even using the core version cant match ESX. Secondly, the lack of advanced features such as DRS and TRUE live migration that really make VMware a much better option IMO.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What does Microsoft need to do with Hyper-V in order to beat VMware in the virtualization space? Or is that even possible? What are the "must have" features for competing successfully against vSphere for the private cloud market? Hyper-V is Windows 8: overkill or a great idea? And if Hyper-V 3.0 does turn out to be a great product, how can Microsoft's marketing machine get the word out and help close the gap? What would convince you to switch from VMware to Hyper-V?

rpollard
rpollard

Opinions are like a**holes, everybody has one... You don't know if what you say is true. You sound like a true fan(boy|girl) that doesn't have a clue. As was pointed out by one of the posters, it's not an all out abandonment from VMWare users to M$ that is boosting their numbers. It's the "IE Syndrome" where you bundle or force a product onto people and then you proudly submit numbers indicating the incredible momentum your product has on the competition. Right... Why would you be running a server with 10 domains and 10 apps on each? That would be ludicrous. I do agree with make a stable OS before you give it more complexity and compound the problems.

Craig_B
Craig_B

With the release of vSphere/ESXi 5, VMware has changed the licensing. VMware has now have put an artificial cap on memory. They have introduced vRam and now charge you per how much memory is installed and used. Here are the caps: Essentials\Plus ??? 24 GB (144 GBMax), Standard ??? 24 GB, Enterprise ??? 32 GB and Enterprise Plus -48 GB. Assume you have vSphere 5 Standard on a Host that has 96 GB RAM. With this license you can only use 24 GB of it, unless you purchase another 3 vSphere 5 Standard licenses to cover it. Now they only count the in use memory (if you have a powered off VM, the memory allocated to it will not count, until you turn it on). I???m not sure how much they will be charging for this but it looks like our costs will go up quite a bit. This puts Microsoft Hyper-V 2008 R2 in a different light. On a technical side I still don???t think it???s quite there however when factoring in the costs, it may be good enough.

michaewlewis
michaewlewis

Why would I care about the hypervisor being 30mb or 30gb when total storage available is in the terabytes? If storage space is so tight that you are trying to find an extra 30gb of space on your virtual server, you need to just buy an extra server or expand your storage array.

robo_dev
robo_dev

I am a big VMware fan....run it at home, and at the office. In terms of Technology, the real horse-race is between VMware and Citrix, with Microsoft playing catch-up. This is not unlike the iPhone-vs-Android battle, with the third player also being, umm...Microsoft. I'm not bashing Microsoft here, it's just that for them virtualization is just another product offering, where VMware is 'all-in'...that's all they do. VMware is the incumbent leader, and enterprises are not going to switch away from a product that works simply to support Microsoft. Remember, for many of these products, the cost of entry is Free. The cost of switching is enormous, both in terms of risk and real IT costs. If you are giving your product away and customers do not take it, where do you go from there? Pay them to take it?

Craig_B
Craig_B

VMware has listened to its users and modified its licensing to a more realistic model. Instead of hard caps, they have increased the the vRAM allowance in each license and they only count the active RAM aggregated over 12 months. This means that we can maintain our current license levels with vSphere 5.

catfish182
catfish182

I disagree with you that since you have hard drive space who cares as you can always add more. IMO one of the reasons for virtualization is to efficient use of hard drive space along with cpu and memory.

spurnyn
spurnyn

Would not bloated software run slower?

tshinder
tshinder

Hyper-V is a type 1 hypervisor and isn't dependent on a full brown OS. You can run Hyper-V server, which is only the hypervisor, and it's much less "bloated" than the ESX hypervisor environment.

BBuck76
BBuck76

You can install it both as bare metal and with the full blown server OS.

davidp_1978
davidp_1978

I'm no expert on this stuff but isn't Hyper-V Server a bare metal hypervisor? I.e. not a full blown OS.

cbader
cbader

That was what I was getting at, I guess I didnt articulate it well enough. The overall storage capacity isnt the issue, its that Hyper-V is running on a full blown OS which isnt as lean and flexible as ESX. To be direct....Smaller meaning less resources, less overhead, more efficient.