Big vendors look to challenge VMware with open source

Too little, too late, says Gartner about the Open Virtualization Alliance

Several big IT vendors, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, BMC Software, Intel and Red Hat, announced this week that they are banding together to promote an open-source virtualization platform -- Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) -- as an alternative to VMware.

The vendors formed the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) to develop reference architectures and best practices for a technology that, according to Gartner, has less than half of one per cent of market share. Their goal is try to get enterprises to consider KVM as an alternative to VMware's platform, as well as to encourage developer support.

Tom Bittman, an analyst at Gartner, doesn't think much of the OVA. "If you have no market share, you band together against the big guys."

VMware is proving to be unshakable in this market. Although it has lost some market share to Microsoft and Citrix's Xen, VMware still has 75 per cent or more of the installed base, according Gartner.

What may be worrisome for vendors is VMware's expanding reach in enterprises, particularly through the adoption of private clouds by enterprises. In its first quarter, VMware reported $844 million in revenue, an increase of 33 per cent from the year ago quarter.

What's happening, said Bittman, is that VMware is moving from being just a hypervisor vendor to a direct competitor of large vendors, in part, by challenging their management tools, such as IBM's Tivoli.

"VMware is going to keep moving up the food chain into their space," he said, calling the OVA effort "too late, too weak."

Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC, said displacing VMware is hard for anyone, citing Microsoft in particular. "It's a momentum problem."

But Gillen sees an opportunity for KVM, particularly in Linux shops. "There are an awful lot of companies that still don't have virtualization," he said.

The OVA may help produce "some level of consistency within KVM implementations and I think that's a positive for the industry," said Gillen. "[But] I don't think having these companies aligned together makes them more able to displace VMware."

KVM was an open-source project developed by Qumranet, an Israeli company acquired by Red Hat in 2008.

Scott Crenshaw, vice president and general manager for cloud business at Red Hat, acknowledges the obstacles, but insists that users want alternatives to VMware. One need is for a larger ecosystem of vendor support.

"There is no doubt that VMware is ahead in the creation of an ecosystem; there is also no doubt that the marketplace wants a viable open alternative -- and that's the purpose of OVA," said Crenshaw.

BMC management tools support VMware, among other technologies, and that company's CTO and Senior Vice President Kia Behnia said its decision to join OVA doesn't change its support for VMware programs. BMC is simply focused on giving customers options.

BMC is "significantly investing in R&D in support of KVM," said Behnia.

VMware officials declined to comment on OVA's creation.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Read more about virtualization in Computerworld's Virtualization Topic Center.

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Tags open sourceConfiguration / maintenanceIBMhardware systemsData Centercloud computinginternetHewlett-PackardvirtualizationGartnerMicrosoftsoftwareRed HatBMC SoftwareintelemcVMware

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