VMware seems to be a victim of its own success.

There was a time when VMware had to make the argument about why to virtualize workloads vs. leverage physical hardware. I recall reading a lot of VMware marketing material in order to convince C-level IT executives that virtualization was worth the investment. Now virtualization is such a staple within the enterprise data center that the question has changed to: How can we save money on the virtualization stack?Surprising options are joining the conversation alongside the dominate VMware vSphere.

Virtualization trends in the present and future

At the heart of vSphere is the ESXi hypervisor. Competitor products include open source hypervisors Xen and KVM and Microsoft’s Hyper-V. The upstart hypervisors have been effective enough to force VMware to offer ESXi for free; and yet, the management stack continues to be the true value of virtualization products.

I talked with several customers, and there’s no question that vSphere features remain at the top of the heap. However, as companies reach the 80% to 90% virtualized server inventory threshold, VMware licensing becomes a target for cost savings.

The debate is no longer over physical vs. virtual but which virtualization platform to select. I tried introducing Hyper-V into environments, but I found it difficult to manage heterogeneous hypervisors. With additional hypervisors comes additional operational complexity. Some considerations include backup, integration with IT service management tools, provisioning, and lifecycle management.

There’s also the level of service that internal customers have become accustomed to from the vSphere suite. Developers depend on features such as high availability and the consistent performance provided by the Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS).

Enter the SDDC

VMware would like to hold the keys to where workloads run within the enterprise. VMware continues to move up the data center stack with the acquisition of Software-Defined Network (SDN) vendor Nicira and the introduction of VSAN, a virtual SAN platform. Also, VMware’s private and public cloud strategy — which includes OpenStack, vRealize, and vCloud Air — has to be considered. VMware is positioning itself to move organizations beyond virtualization and into what it has coined the Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC).

VMware isn’t the only infrastructure company preaching the benefits of the SDDC, and there’s some question as to whether VMware customers are buying into its specific vision of the SDDC. VMware’s Chris Waldo, Senior Director, Global Cloud Partner Marketing, noted in February 2015 that only 20% of VMware customers leverage products beyond vSphere. Some competitors believe this gap to the SDDC and the cost of vSphere provides an opportunity for customer choice for the hypervisor.

A relatively small competitor called Nutanix is looking to enable the SDDC by starting with support of multiple hypervisors. Nutanix is a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) provider with approximately 1,200 customers. During its inaugural user conference .NEXT 2015, the company announced its first hypervisor platform, Acropolis XCP. Acropolis XCP is based on a customized version of KVM. According to Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey via a video interview on SiliconANGLE’s theCUBE, the value isn’t in the hypervisor but the orchestration of where the application runs.

Nutanix showed the ease at which it’s possible to move workloads from VMware vSphere to KVM. Ultimately, the goal is to provide a platform that allows users to move workloads just as seamlessly from on-premises infrastructure to public cloud infrastructure. In theory, as applications are re-written to take advantage of cloud architectures, the advanced features of vSphere become less critical to enterprise data center operators. For the remaining legacy apps, platforms such as XCP should be sufficient. Nutanix is very early in its execution, and there’s still uncertainty about its ability to execute.

Tell us what you think

Has your organization considered moving away from VMware based on the cost of the hypervisor? Also, are you embracing VMware’s larger portfolio of products, or are you in a holding pattern until the overall cloud market matures? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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