Microsoft Plays up Hyper-V Versus VMware

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Microsoft is the new competitor in the virtualization market, but executives outlined some of the reasons they think the company can dominate it during a Microsoft virtualization event in Bellevue, Washington, on Monday.

While VMware is by far the server virtualization market leader, Microsoft hopes it can compete on price, features and the strength of its other products, the executives said.

"VMware is ridiculously expensive," said Bob Kelly, corporate vice president of infrastructure server marketing for Microsoft.

Microsoft's Hyper-V should cost users about a third of what VMware would, said Kevin Turner, chief operating officer of Microsoft, speaking during a keynote presentation at the event and using VMware prices listed on public Web sites.

Microsoft has also worked hard to allow customers to manage both VMware and Hyper-V within Microsoft's System Center management software, the executives said. "So we think customers will deploy us side by side with VMware, and then, because of the price, you'll see customers move to us," Kelly said.

Some customers are saying that the cost difference is indeed a factor for them. Matt Lavellee, director of technology for the MLS Property Information Network in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, said that since the real estate information firm already uses Windows Server to run its Web server farm, the cost savings of using the included Hyper-V instead of VMware proved overwhelming.

"Our analysis was that to use VMware would have meant 30 percent of our potential infrastructure expenses would have been just for VMware," he said. VMware-trained IT staffers were also 10 percent to 20 percent more expensive than Microsoft-trained ones, he said. "Cost is such a driver that unless Hyper-V didn't work, we weren't going to look at VMware."

Microsoft executives played up advantages the company has for selling a wide array of products and services that customers may already use. "Virtualization is only one part of the solution. You need a complete platform," said Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business.

That idea is a plus for Microsoft. "If their software works as well or nearly as well as VMware, it becomes a challenge for VMware because of the sheer weight of Microsoft," said Michael Cote, an analyst with Redmonk.

Still, a lot of companies are waiting to hear from the initial Hyper V users before deciding between Microsoft and VMware, Cote said. One feature they're looking at closely is management capabilities. "With virtualization, you used to have 200 boxes, but now you have that and 500 virtual boxes," he said. "There's gains, but if you're not careful then you end up with more problems." Customers could gravitate toward Hyper-V if it had features that helped them better manage virtualization, he said.

However, so far Hyper-V lacks some features that VMware has, and Microsoft might be focusing on capabilities that users don't really care about all that much. On Monday, Muglia demonstrated for the first time a feature that will let IT administrators migrate an application from one server to another without disrupting use of the application. This live migration capability will be available in the next release of Hyper-V along with Windows Server 2008.

VMware's VMotion feature already enables live migration. Plus, that capability might not be very important to customers. MLS' Lavellee said live migration is not an important feature to him.

Microsoft also thinks it's getting into the market at a good time. Even though companies have been talking about virtualization for many years, just about 12 percent of servers being sold today are being used for virtualization, according to Microsoft's Kelly.

Microsoft also says timing could work in its favor in terms of the economic downturn. "We typically see very rapid adoption of technologies that help save money and deliver agility in down markets. Customers have to find cost savings somewhere, and so technologies that help them are pretty critical," Kelly said.

Microsoft is itself quickly adopting virtualization, the executives said. All new servers brought into the company's data centers must be virtualized, Turner said.

Currently, a "substantive percentage" of the Web site, including Technet and MSDN, runs on Hyper-V, Muglia said. The servers running those portions of the site are getting more than 50 percent utilization, which compares to the industry standard of about 15 percent or less, he said.

Microsoft is among other companies, including Hewlett-Packard and Dell, making announcements in the run-up to VMware's annual conference starting next week.

(Eric Lai is a Computerworld reporter.)

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