Server virtualization software burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. The meteoric rise of VMware – the market pioneer – came about as organizations realized the benefits of consolidating multiple physical servers onto one virtual machine (VM). Gone were the days of low rates of server utilization and one physical server hosting one application.
Server virtualization remains a growth area of IT. According to Market Research Future, the server virtualization market is expected to grow at approximately $8 billion by 2023, at 7% of CAGR between 2017 and 2023. That represents a market that will almost double in that time.
While VMware remains the market leader, alternatives from Microsoft, Red Hat, Citrix, Oracle, Proxmox, IBM, Virtuozzo, and others offer plenty of competition. Those companies offer a slew of features that have given new life to virtualization. The latest generation of products incorporate features for the cloud, containerization, hyper-convergence, and software-defined computing.
While containers are hot and interest in serverless computing is growing, the reality is that server virtualization remains a rock-solid technology that powers the vast majority of enterprise applications – some estimates put VM saturation as high as 90 percent.
For the moment, it is difficult to envision enterprises moving mission-critical applications running smoothly on VMs to either containers or a serverless platform. Users with heterogeneous environments, in particular, will likely still use VMs because containers need to run all on the same OS and can’t be mixed between Linux and Windows. But for new applications built with the DevOps and agile methodologies, developers will have to decide whether to run them in a VM, a container, or a serverless environment. Long term, this will pose a challenge to server virtualization.
Here are the top vendors in the server virtualization space.
- VMware vSphere
- Red Hat Virtualization
- Proxmox VE
- Microsoft Hyper-V
- Citrix Hypervisor
- Oracle VM Server
- IBM PowerVM
VMware is the vendor to beat in server virtualization. It is likely to be on all shortlists as it has dominated the market for so long. It top all competitors on overall user ratings.
But it may be a victim of its own success. The company has steadily advanced functionality to the point where it may be a little too complex for SMBs that are not tech savvy. In addition, some users believe that there are better alternatives around for Linux-heavy environments. Pricing is another area where competitors can gain ground. VMware has always offered a premium product at a premium price.
However, in large enterprise environments – with a large budget – that cross a variety of platforms, OSes and architectures, VMware remains king.
Red Hat Virtualization
Red Hat Virtualization does well against VMware in Linux environments. It is lower cost and is said to be easier to manage. Overall user ratings are only slightly behind vSphere. While it is used by many SMBs, they tend to only be those with IT staff already experienced in open source and Linux deployments.
Overall, it is more of a tool for large deployments that require significant server density. Where Linux is preferred to Windows, Red Hat Virtualization should be on the short list.
Proxmox is a lower-cost alternative to Red Hat in Linux-rich environments. It has carved out a niche in Germany and other parts of Europe, particularly among SMBs with IT staff experienced in open source software. Its combination of server virtualization, containers and software defined storage in one product makes it especially attractive to organizations wishing to implement these technologies. It also competes closely with Virtuozzo (see below).
Open source environments are unlikely to view Microsoft as their top choice for a virtualization platform. And it very much works the other way. Why use Linux-oriented and open-source tools to manage VMs on Windows servers? This play in Microsoft’s favor: any Microsoft or Windows shop will typically avoid open source vendors, and instead place Hyper-V on it short list.
Hyper-V scores only a little behind VMware on user ratings, but is less expensive and more tightly integrated to the entire Microsoft ecosystem. But VMware may be a better option for more environments. However, check compatibility carefully as Hyper-V has a wider range of supported hardware, and offers certain advanced features without requiring additional license fees.
Citrix Hypervisor offers an enterprise-level feature set as a low-cost virtualization platform alternative to VMware vSphere. It leads the industry in 3D graphics support, and can span both Windows and Linux workloads.
Hypervisor is graded a little behind VMware by users, but not by much. It also has a following among SMBs. For those with an existing Citrix presence, it is an attractive option. It is also a candidate where there is a large mix of Windows and Linux machines. But where one or the other of these operating systems predominates, other virtualization platforms may be a better fit.
Read our in-depth review of Citrix Hypervisor
Oracle VM Server is clearly a good choice for Oracle application users in an x86 environment. Due to tight integration and certification required to run Oracle apps, it is said to deploy VMs running on Oracle systems up to 10 times faster than VMware. Most Oracle users are unlikely to look elsewhere.
However, user satisfaction is low compared to other virtualization solutions. Those with only minor needs for Oracle application virtualization should also consider the many alternatives, either for additional features or lower costs.
Just as Oracle VM is the obvious first choice for Oracle apps, IBM PowerVM should be the first port of call for those seeking to virtualize AIX, IBM Linux, and IBM i clients.
However, VMware, Citrix and other open source tools may also get the job done if IBM’s solution proves over-engineered. The IBM option is often used by larger enterprises with significant budgets. Small businesses deploying IBM PowerVM may be better to bring in outside help to get it up and running. The complexity of the solution requires some true expertise.
Virtuozzo is basically a company set up to provide commercial support for the open source Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) platform. It adds a great many enhancements to KVM, which is the most popular open source hypervisor.
Those using KVM who wish enhanced functionality and support should consider Virtuozzo, as well as anyone wanting to virtualize Linux servers. Its user base is comprised of mainly small and mid-sized companies as opposed to large enterprises. Virtuozzo combines server virtualization with software defined storage and containerization. But many other vendors’ can scale better and have more features akin to VMware. SMBs should consider Virtuozo, if cost is the primary concern. But larger organizations with bigger budgets may want to look elsewhere.
Read our in-depth review of Virtuozzo