What is virtualisation?
In the past organisations ran a specific software application on a physical server. They sized the server (how much memory, disk space, CPU capacity etc.) based on recommendations from the software vendor. That server typically would only be used to run that single application.
This was fine except that in practice very few applications need all the server capacity all of the time. A typical scenario would show that the servers were running at 5%-20% of their capacity, but occasionally the application would spike to 80% utilisation.
Therefore in an organisation with 100 x servers, 80% of their capacity was sitting unused most of the time. However the companies involved had invested an upfront cost in the server hardware and also had to pay for operational costs such as hardware support, operating system upgrades and the personnel to manage and upgrade these 100 x servers. Other costs include the electrical power to feed these servers and, in some cases, the cost of hosting these servers with a third party.
Then along came virtualisation and it’s most prominent exponent, VMware, now part of EMC. More than any other vendor, VMware popularised the concept and use of virtualisation. Their software allows users to run multiple “Virtual Machines” on a single physical server.
Advantages of Virtualisation
Using the example above, an organisation can reduce the number of physical servers dramatically, but maintain the same number of applications. Thereby reducing the initial cost of purchasing server hardware and reducing the operational costs, less physical servers means lower hardware support costs, lower management costs, lower power and hosting costs.
VMware offer customers a free to use application which sits on their servers and over a period of time calculates the actual usage of the various applications being monitored. In a recent example where I was involved it showed that an organisation using 90 x physical servers could reduce this down to 10 and still have the processing capacity to allow their applications to run effectively.
Other advantages include the time in providing new “virtual servers” is much less than the time it takes to deploy a new physical server. Also it provides an ideal way to test a new application and then effectively delete that virtual server and free up its resources when the test period is complete.
The clash begins
Everything was going fine for VMware whose main competitor was Citrix, and then along came the mighty Microsoft who decided they would like a slice of the lucrative virtualisation market.
Microsoft launched “Hyper-V” which provides the same functionality as VMware when it comes to server virtualisation. However, when you speak to technical personnel trained and experienced in both technologies, they will without exception tell you VMware has superior functionality and additional management features over and above those found in Hyper-V.
So, EMC, who own the VMware technology have nothing to fear then?
They have a huge installed base and a technically superior product?
Well no, because people buy technology products not simply based on technical features and benefits, commercial reasons always come into play and this is where Microsoft is winning ground against EMC.
In a recent project I was involved in the customer already had a small deployment of VMware and where perfectly happy with it. However when they decided to virtualise the majority of their 90 x servers, Microsoft came calling and offered them a deal they couldn’t refuse. They offered the Hype-V licenses free of charge and also offered them $32,000 towards the cost of implementing their software via their chosen Microsoft reseller / partner. This saved them the equivalent of over $60,000 compared to purchasing VMware licenses and paying the VMware reseller / partner to install and configure the software. In return the company involved agreed to be a site reference for Microsoft and allow them to write and publish a case study detailing their deployment of Hyper-V.
Using sales tactics like these will ensure Microsoft seed the market with Hyper-V installations and raise awareness of this product within the general IT marketplace.
So who will win the virtualisation war?
I believe in a few years time VMware, and Citrix will inevitably lose some of their customers to Microsoft, but there are a growing number of large commercial organisations who are resisting the all pervasive Microsoft licensing push where Microsoft try to persuade companies to deploy Microsoft everywhere from the desktop to the applications, data bases and server operating systems. These companies will continue to use and deploy VMware and will resist the temptation to go for “free with strings attached” offers from Microsoft.
The other marketing advantage EMC has to fend off the Microsoft attack is their alliance with Cisco.
Ciscos’ highly motivated and highly paid sales personnel (I know because I was one) are out there now pushing their vision of virtualisation which includes their server hardware, the chassis based UCS, and they include bundles of VMware software which are supported directly by Cisco’s technical support department, SMARTNET.
As Microsoft is simultaneously trying to eat into the Cisco IP Telephony market with their latest release of “OCS”, there seems little common ground between these two powerful vendors.
The ultimate threat to Microsoft would be if Cisco were to purchase EMC allowing them to provide a complete hardware and software solution to customers looking for virtualisation solutions.
In that event, Microsoft’s Hyper-V may remain a bit player up against the combined strengths of Cisco/ EMC technology and their considerable marketing efforts.