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?