VMware, MS battle over virtualization management

Will Microsoft penetrate VMware's stronghold in the virtualization market by offering the management technologies customers need to control and optimize virtual servers?

Microsoft's release this week of Hyper-V means there's one more hypervisor in the game -- and one more reason management capabilities will play a large part in determining which vendor will win long-term customer favor by providing the tools to optimize virtual server environments.

Industry watchers say managing virtual server technologies from x86 environments back to the mainframe, across multi-platform hypervisors and consistently alongside physical machines will be a key differentiator among the vendors seeking market domination. VMware remains ahead in managing its own hypervisor technologies, but with Microsoft's entry into the market, analysts say demands will change and customers will need to do more than monitor a single hypervisor technology with their management tools.

"Virtualization is a game-changing technology, and traditional and emerging management players, and the hypervisor providers, are trying to envision the best strategy to manage it," says Cameron Haight, a research vice president at Gartner.

Here's a look at how VMware and Microsoft rate today in terms of management expertise.

VMware: Out in front early

Today a majority of customers using x86 virtual server technology depend upon their hypervisor provider for additional management capabilities, according to Gartner. Most customers using x86 virtual server technology use VMware, and that trend will continue as the company looks to invest further into building out its management capabilities.

VMware has acquired management players Akimbi, Dunes Technologies and B-hive Networks. Akimbi enabled VMware's LabManager product, and Dunes spawned its Lifecycle Manager tool. The more recent B-hive acquisition, which brought application and transaction-level monitoring to VMware, has yet to produce a VMware product.

VMware also counts as an advantage its VirtualCenter management console, VMotion virtual machine migration tool, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DSR) capabilities and High-Availability feature in VMware Infrastructure 3.

"Both VMware and Microsoft have gaps in their management capabilities, but VMware seems to have an advantage of manageability [such as VMotion and DRS] that is built into their virtual infrastructure that is often the reason for their selection," Haight says.

But going forward, customers (large ones in particular) will need management tools that report on capacity, performance and availability of not only virtual machines but also physical servers -- which is an advantage for Microsoft. To bolster its capabilities in this area, VMware recently partnered with management software maker HP, which touts platform-agnostic management capabilities across both physical and virtual environments.

"The server admin group is responsible for virtual servers today, and they won't want a separate console or tool to manage just VMware," says Andi Mann, a research vice president with Enterprise Management Associates. "It has yet to be seen what the partnership with HP will deliver, but it gives VMware access to both the physical server and heterogeneous platform management capabilities it will need."

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Denise Dubie

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