Microsoft versus VMware: IT loses

Microsoft versus VMware: IT loses

IT faces a choice between two virtualization options that are incompatible.

To fight the proprietary performance advantage that comes from Hyper-V's tight integration with Windows Server 2008, VMware has rolled out ESXi, a slimmed-down (32MB) version of the ESX hypervisor that some server vendors are embedding into server hardware on an internal USB flash drive. VMware won't say what it charges server vendors for ESXi, but in the grand scheme of things, the incremental cost to server buyers is likely to be negligible. Microsoft is selling Hyper-V for $28 and would probably give it away for free if the company could get away with it.

Why US$28 and not zero dollars? "It does get weird and wonky when [Microsoft] gives things away," says Windows Server 2008 product manager Ward Ralston. "We can't do that because of who we are," he says, given previous run-ins with regulators over Microsoft's alleged monopolistic practices in the past. Regardless, both vendors are essentially giving away the hypervisor to capture the business -- and lock in the customer. Today, VMware has the advantage in that it has already locked in many corporations with its VirtualCenter offering, which is tightly coupled to its own hypervisor.

Microsoft wants to own the hypervisor by embedding it into Windows in much the same way it has extended Windows in other areas, pushing aside major competitors. VMware is well aware that if it supports Hyper-V, it risks losing control over its own destiny. But this competitive battle doesn't serve the needs of enterprise IT managers, who want a common hypervisor that allows them to use the management tool stack of their choice.

Will a more open, standardized hypervisor layer evolve for the Windows server market, or will this turn into a Blu-ray vs. HD DVD battle, in which one proprietary hypervisor wins? Peck thinks enterprises will demand openness. "The winner of this race is going to be the product that can be more open and more interoperable upstream, downstream, left and right," he says. VMware may think it's ahead. But, he adds, "right now, neither one of them is winning in that space."

Vendors have yet to reach that conclusion, however, and that consensus, if it ever comes, is likely to take a few more years. In the meantime, Microsoft and VMware seem determined to slug it out for dominance. Let the hypervisor wars begin.

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