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Hardware Today: x86 Virtualization Competition Gets Real Page 2

By Ben Freeman (Send Email)
Posted Mar 8, 2004


Bad Moon Rising

Other virtualization competition seemed to dry up recently when Connectix and Ejasent disappeared from the map, purchased by Microsoft and Veritas, respectively. Like the ocean receding a mile, only to be followed by a tidal wave, expect these giants to try to disrupt VMware's solid ownership of the market in due time. Ejasent followed a utility computing model, allowing redeployment of resources beyond the boundaries of individual hardware, perhaps showing another strategic reason for VMware's VMotion capability. Despite recent Veritas/VMware partnering, expect EMC/Veritas to battle for the virtualization space down the road.

And as Microsoft folds Connectix' IP into its monolithic camp, a question brews: Will its entry seriously alter the landscape? "A generic answer," Zubarev says, "would be whatever market Microsoft answers, it will shake." But for the moment, he sees Microsoft's initial entry into the virtualization space as "as strictly a way to facilitate Windows migration into the latest servers."

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed such a view of Virtual Server 2004, which is currently in select customer beta and scheduled for release before mid-2004. "Customer scenarios for the product are NT4 application migration, departmental and branch office server consolidation, software development, and training lab automation," he said. Although this makes a modest start, the road map for Redmond's Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) shows that the prospective triumvirate of virtualization players (VMware, Veritas, and Virtuozzo) can expect far greater competition than each other in the Windows virtualization market down the road.

Does the VMware-Dell bundling mark a defensive move in advance of stiffer competition? "Oh, goodness no," Mullany chuckled. "I mean, this is a really aggressive expansion of our distribution." He added, "we did just under $100 million last year, we're aiming for $175 to $200 million this year, and Dell is being customer responsive." Those impressive market figures mark a form of market entrenchment; the question of whether this entrenchment will need to be used defensively in the future remains open.

Open Alternatives

Despite the entrenchment of major players in the space, the open source community should not be overlooked. Strides have been made here, particularly in Linux virtualization. According to Herbert Poetzl, project owner for open source VServer, open Linux development makes a great foil to any future Microsoft kernel hegemony in the space. "Virtualization at the OS level requires good support in the kernel" he says, "and the Linux kernel source is easy to get, right?" Although it does not provide hardware emulation, Linux VServer functions much like an early version of Virtuozzo, and it is completely free.

Another advantage to open source may be hardware platform independence down the line. Wensong Zhang, author of Linux Virtual Server, describes his project as capable of running on "any hardware as long as the Linux kernel can run on it." Through flexible "virtual clustering," Zhang's software provides the functionality virtualization vendors seem to be aiming toward more and more.

Conclusions

Virtual machine options are available in a myriad of flavors: Looking to employ virtualization in a homogeneous or Windows-only enterprise in the next year? VMware should top the short list. Alternately, Linux-based workgroups and hosting providers should consider Virtuozzo; and Windows users may want to keep an eye peeled for the vendor's high performance model, which, once it is available, will challenge VMware's GSX Server in that space. Smaller implementations or tech-savvy departments looking to reduce Linux TCO may want to consider open options like VServer or Linux Virtual Server. Only sworn aficionados should wait for Microsoft and Veritas to come through with their offerings.

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