Microsoft Linux Move Puts Pressure on VMware

Microsoft's historic embrace of Linux technology could have wide-reaching impacts on the virtualization market and Microsoft's rival VMware.

By allowing greater ability to run Linux on the Hyper-V virtualization platform, Microsoft is making a compelling case that it could be the virtualization vendor of choice for consolidation of Windows and Linux applications, says Gartner analyst George Weiss. Microsoft still lags behind VMware in enterprise features such as live migration. But once Microsoft proves itself "good enough" in terms of functionality, many customers will be intrigued by Hyper-V as a lower-cost alternative to VMware, Weiss says.

"Windows with Hyper-V can be a good consolidation story for running Windows and Linux applications," Weiss says. The ability to take over more of the world of both Windows and Linux applications, which is what VMware has been doing, should help Microsoft in its battle against VMware."

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Gartner's research shows that VMware still holds 80% to 90% of the x86 hypervisor market, according to Weiss.

Microsoft's big Linux push Monday involved the submission of driver source code for inclusion in the Linux Kernel, which will provide the hooks for any distribution of Linux to run on Windows Server 2008 and its Hyper-V hypervisor technology.Hyper-V's support of Linux-based guest operating systems was previously limited to several versions of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.  Microsoft provided integration components and technical support to customers who wanted to run SUSE Linux.

VMware also supports Linux, but Microsoft's move to submit code to the mainline Linux kernel could give Microsoft a leg up. As Network World's John Fontana reports, VMware had already "certified kernel mode para-virtualization drivers but administrators have to install them separately because they are not part of the mainline Linux kernel."

With this latest move, Microsoft is pitching Hyper-V as one-stop shopping for both Windows and Linux virtualization.

"The question becomes am I going to pick multiple versions of virtualization technology; one for each operating system or workload, and if I do that, will I get the benefit that I need?" says Sam Ramji, Microsoft's director of open source technology strategy. "Or can I pick one virtualization technology, one management technology and have one set of skills to support that whole infrastructure regardless if it is Unix, Linux or Windows running on top of it." VMware has not yet offered a response to the Microsoft Linux move.

Weiss expects VMware to play down Microsoft's announcement, and point out that it still has the most advanced technology in virtualization management.

"I think VMware will try to downplay it as not significant, that they have already been there and done that, and they have the most market share and the market share comprises not only Windows but also Linux," he says.

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