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Survey Reveals Server Virtualization Has Gone Commodity

Every so often an industry survey will throw up some numbers that are very, very interesting. Here's an example: Apparently 38 percent of enterprises that use server virtualization are planning to abandon their primary hypervisor and switch to a competing one. That's according to the latest V-Index, a quarterly virtualization study published by Veeam Software, a virtual infrastructure management system maker.

Now server virtualization is not something that any organization enters into lightly, so the fact that well over a third of the 578 organizations surveyed are planning to change their hypervisor--the foundation of any server virtualization system--is very, very surprising. The survey doesn't include any data about which hypervisors enterprises are planning to drop or switch to, but it does give some possible hints by providing the motivation for changing.

The No. 1 reason for changing is, quite simply, cost, and that's mentioned by no fewer than 58.9 percent of respondents. Taken alone, that's extraordinary. Why? Because hypervisors and server virtualization systems aren't usually thought of as products that people shop around for on cost. When consumers of a product buy for cost reasons that usually implies that the product being bought is a commodity: There is nothing much else to distinguish it from alternative products, so cost is the factor that sways the purchasing decision. Yet, few people would say that virtualization technology is a commodity with little to distinguish the offerings of VMware, Microsoft or Citrix.

The next three reasons, cited by around 45 percent of all respondents, make a lot more sense: features offered by alternative hypervisors, licensing model, and increased maturity of alternative hypervisors.

Now we seem to be getting somewhere. Take all these factors together, including cost, and the picture that emerges is one in which enterprises may be feeling their current hypervisors are too expensive when they consider the features and maturity of alternative ones.

The temptation is to try and interpret these numbers in terms of dissatisfaction with VMware's virtualization technology, which is usually characterized as fully featured but expensive, and Hyper-V, which is characterized as cheaper but less mature, with a feature set that is catching up slowly. So the numbers could suggest that many organizations are fed up with VMware's high prices and vRam-taxing licensing model, and enterprises are planning to switch to the less expensive Hyper-V, perhaps when the more mature version 3 is released next year with new features such as live migration for storage and low-cost disaster recovery capabilities.

Of course, Hyper-V may not be the hypervisor to which many VMware users are considering migrating. After all, XenServer is also seen as lower cost than VMware, its licensing model is as simple as can be, its feature set for certain tasks is very complete indeed, and its public cloud strategy, through CloudStack, is visible even though it is not yet quite ready for enterprise private clouds.

Then, of course, some enterprises could be considering ditching Hyper-V in favor of XenServer. After all, when it comes to private and public clouds, Microsoft doesn't focus on its hypervisor, but on System Center and how to manage virtualized environments. The company would probably prefer you use Hyper-V, but as long as you are using System Center it would probably not be too worried. If you are moving away from Windows to Linux, why not move from Hyper-V to XenServer too?

Could there be a move away from XenServer or Hyper-V to VMware? It's certainly possible, although it's hard to see how many companies would plan such a move for cost or licensing model reasons. VMware has modified its licensing regime since vSphere 5 was first introduced, but it's not exactly popular even now. Or cheap. But it does offer features that the other two don't, and it is generally thought of as a more mature product.

Perhaps there will be movement in all directions between these hypervisors--the fact is there's not enough data to know what companies are planning. All we know is that, of those enterprises surveyed, 38 percent are planning to change their primary one to something else.

But, paradoxically, not knowing something can often tell us a lot. The fact that there are reasons for switching between many combinations of these hypervisors shows that the virtualization marketplace is still very far from mature. Competition is certainly heating up, and a couple of years from now Microsoft and Citrix and VMware could all command a similar share of the hypervisor market. Then again, VMware may end up being even more dominant than it already is.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on November 11, 2011
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