Microsoft a distant third in mock debate on virtualization

VMware, Xen win hearts and minds of IT execs at Forrester show

VMware's going to win the virtualization battle, and Microsoft won't even be its nearest competitor.

That was the outcome of a mock debate last week in which analysts representing VMware, Microsoft and the Xen open source hypervisor lobbied for votes from an audience of IT executives attending Forrester Research's IT Forum in Las Vegas.

When asked which server virtualization software will be their strategic platform over the next five years, 35 or so audience members raised their hands for VMware, about 15 for Xen, and only five for Microsoft.

Unscientific to be sure, but the debate and vote pointed out a few important issues in the virtualization war: Customers like VMware products but are frustrated with high cost and product support; Microsoft is late to the game, not yet having released the widely anticipated Hyper-V software; and Xen, while not as popular as VMware, offers a creditable alternative at lower cost.

The mock debate had Forrester analysts taking playful jabs at each other, with James Staten representing Xen, Christopher Voce representing Microsoft, and Galen Schreck representing VMware.

Schreck won the debate arguing that VMware's high prices are justified by its management tools and extra features, such as the ability to move applications from one physical device to another without interrupting end users.

"We do charge more than other vendors and I think we are worth it," Schreck said, speaking for VMware. "We remain open to modifying our pricing once a credible competitor emerges."

One IT executive in the audience who said he has virtualized 300 servers complained about VMware's support staff being unresponsive and not always able to fix problems. But he said Microsoft will lag behind because it doesn't offer the ability to instantly move a virtual server from one physical box to another.

This type of migration takes 5 to 10 seconds with Hyper-V, Avian Securities analyst Jeffrey Gaggin noted recently. Hyper-V is also missing the "hot add" feature, the ability to add memory to a server while it's running, Gaggin said.

Microsoft has argued the few seconds of downtime during migrations isn't a big deal in most cases, but Voce, arguing on behalf of Microsoft, acknowledged that quick migration is different than instantaneous migration.

"There are workloads in organizations that are going to require advanced features [not offered by Microsoft]," Voce said, arguing that Hyper-V should be used when advanced features aren't necessary. The price of Hyper-V was one of the main reasons he cited. "It's [US]$28," he said.

Voce also argued that Microsoft will do a better job integrating Hyper-V with other vendors' technologies than VMware and Xen have. And he mentioned Microsoft's certification program, which has produced an abundance of trained Microsoft professionals, who presumably will be well-suited to work with Hyper-V.

The audience seemed skeptical of Microsoft, though, given that VMware and Xen have a head start of several years.

Staten, arguing on behalf of Xen, said the open source nature of the project has spurred innovation from multiple vendors such as Oracle, Sun, Novell and Citrix. "We're in an era when efficiency needs to be addressed," Staten said. "This is a hypervisor architecture that was designed open source, that allows multiple vendors to participate, multiple vendors to show their value."

The biggest challenge faced by Xen -- a lack of compatibility among different version of the hypervisor -- will be solved within a few months with an agreement preventing vendors from using the Xen trademark unless they meet compatibility standards, according to Staten.

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