Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May of 2013. It was updated in June of 2014, and again December of 2015.
While new IT trends in backup, storage, and more are emerging at the speed of sound, virtualization continues to become the data center norm. According to Gartner, more than half of all server workloads are currently virtualized. That number is expected to rise to 86 percent in 2016.
Most of us look at the virtualization wars as a matter of two foes: VMware and Hyper-V. Stick with me as I nerd things up a bit. VMware reminds me of pro wrestling entertainment company WWE. It’s so big and so successful that the brand is synonymous with the industry itself.
Hyper-V reminds me of WWE rival TNA Wrestling. It’s a nice offering with a lot going for it, yet still plays the role of distant number two. These are easily the two biggest shows in town. But like the wrestling industry, the virtualization space is a great big world with more to offer than many of its fans even realize.
Gartner Group provided an interesting glimpse into the x86 server virtualization infrastructure market with its 2015 Magic Quandrant report. To no surprise, VMware and Microsoft came in as number one and number two on the leaderboard. While all other competitors were merely considered “niche players”, the report suggested that the field is far more competitive than a surface view may show.
VMware: Number One with a Bullet
According to Gartner, VMware is still a dominant force with a broad and sustainable market strategy. Like superstar wrestlers to WWE, VMware has a number of heavy-hitting products for virtualization and VM storage, each tailored to meet specialized IT needs. But if we’re talking a one on one encounter, then vSphere is the champ VMware is sending into the fight.
In the golden age of virtualization, VMware hypervisors didn’t do much outside of their core functionality. But they excelled at it. Vsphere, the franchise fighter, aims to simplify x86 server virtualization by leveraging a mix of brawn and sophistication. Sysadmins can count on this hypervisor heavyweight to take on demanding workloads, effortlessly hoist them into the cloud, and intelligently adapt to the most challenging IT environments. VMware may be a little flashy, but Gartner reports that products like vSphere still scores high marks in the area of customer satisfaction. That’s where it counts!
When it comes to investing in any technology, there usually isn’t any safer bet than the market leader(s). However, the areas in which the top dogs are lacking can be viewed as stepping stones competitors can use to make up ground. In the wrestling world, cheesy storylines, inconsistent booking decisions and WWE’s inability to create new superstars gives fans a reason to tune out and seek sports entertainment elsewhere. Based on the Gartner report, expensive offerings and the inability to embrace the right trends at the right time may eventually allow VMware challengers to lessen the gap.
Hyper-V: Second Place Purgatory
Microsoft first deployed Hyper-V into battle in Windows Server 2008 and continues to have prominence in Microsoft Server 2012 R2. Hyper-V shares a lot of similarities with the number two wrestling promotion I referenced earlier. Like TNA delivers a wrestling product that is every good as WWE in the ring, Hyper-V is a quality virtualization offering that helps IT departments tap into the true power of 64-bit computing. Microsoft’s contender is cost effective and very appealing to the many enterprises that already run a Windows-only infrastructure.
I don’t know how many wrestling fans are on the staff, but Gartner seems to see Microsoft’s struggles similarly to how I view TNA. Despite its ability to create awareness and grab the number two spot, Hyper-V is still having trouble catching on with the diehards who give all praise to VMware. It’s kind of like the members of the WWE Universe who refuse to give TNA a chance. And as TNA struggles to reach the top of the mountain, it has allowed other smaller promotions to catch up. Microsoft is facing the same struggle as open source challengers continue to creep up on its tail.
The Rest of the Field
Every market leader has to start somewhere, and that’s encouraging for niche players like Oracle. IT geeks might look at Oracle like Ring of Honor (ROH). Pound for pound, product for product they’ve got the potential to be number one. But constructed as is, their strategy will only take them so far. Gartner’s assessment falls in line with this quasi-warped line of thinking.
Some say ROH delivers the best wrestling on the planet. The in-ring product is as crisp and fluid as can be. Unfortunately, the production values are questionable and the company’s vision is too narrow to ever be a serious threat to the McMahon empire. That second part definitely sounds like a familiar database giant.
The Magic Quadrant report identified Oracle as a competitor with a strong line of products that can deliver the optimal performance enterprise demands from virtualization. It also highlighted the company’s persistent push of an Oracle-only product stack as a potentially major flaw that limits its market appeal to IT departments seeking a homogeneous environment.
Red Hat is another niche player to keep an eye on. For the sake of this post, we’ll consider these guys the Lucha Underground of virtualization. A relative newcomer, Lucha Underground offers an exciting brand of pro wrestling inspired by the luchadore tradition that is still a big deal in Mexico to this day. While it isn’t necessarily knocking on the doors of WWE or TNA, it’s exciting, surging, and tinkering with a trend that could spark the next industry boon – a return to the old school grit that appeals to the hardcore fans WWE continues to drive away with family-friendly programming.
While Red Hat maintains the biggest commercial Linux distribution, it holds on tightly to the open source roots that helped catapult the firm to enterprise fame. Gartner pointed out that Red Hat needs to be more aggressive in marketing its virtualization offering in order to generate the sales that are essential to its very survival. It also pointed to niche appeal as a potential strong suite. Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) is particularly sexy to those interested in Linux-based workloads, and its investment in a cloud-centric stack is firmly on track with one of the biggest storage and virtualization industry trends.
Trending Towards the Best of Virtualization
The Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) is full of smarks—wrestling fans who are probably a little too smart for their own good. Sure, they’re a little annoying, but these fans realize that other, potentially better options exist outside of WWE and TNA rings. IT smarks are discovering that better virtualization solutions may exist in trends like containers and integration with cloud computing, the gift that just keeps on giving.
Containers and virtual machines aim to accomplish the same goal – containers just do it more efficiently. Like a VM, a container has an OS, file system, and network that can be accessed as if run on a physical or virtual machine. Unlike a VM, a container allows applications, resources, and processes to run cleanly in isolated packages without impacting the rest of the system. A slim, simplified approach to isolation is the reason this phenomenon and its associated ecosystem is being hailed as the next generation of virtualization.
The container concept has the power to not only revolutionize the development field, but IT as a whole. Developers can use it to create portable applications that run in any environment – server or laptop, private or public cloud – saving more time and using fewer resources. For IT departments, containers offer a stable environment for each stage of development, testing, and production. Plus, container management offers all the extensive capabilities of a hypervisor, while enabling admins to create infrastructures that are easier to update and maintain.
The overall consensus is that hybrid clouds are the next logical step up from the virtual infrastructure. Hybrid environments allow IT to further bolster virtualization by optimizing key areas like disaster recovery. When disaster strikes, organizations need the ability to replicate data to various storage targets like private clouds in the data center to public clouds offsite and back again. A hybrid cloud enables sysadmins to execute this extensive process in fast and effective fashion – all from a centralized interface that makes everything easy to manage.
The Future of Virtualization
The pains of today’s wrestling industry can be felt in the cries of the IWC, the loudest voice of the community. Kayfabe is dead thanks to the luxury fans have access to inside information. On one hand, fans seemingly know too much and are in turn, harder to please. On the other, pleasing them may very well be as simple as listening to their chatter across the dirt sheets, social networks, and message boards. Less talking. More wrestling. Less shoving Vince’s Chosen Ones down their throats. More pushing wrestlers who gain organic fan support.
Comparatively speaking, it could be a similar case for the topic at hand. The victor in the virtualization wars may turn out to be the player that conveniently serves up the trends enterprise IT teams have in their sights. VMware is sitting comfortable. Microsoft has made strides. But with containers on the rise and hybrid clouds making more sense than ever, even the niche players may have something to say about who makes their mark in this intensely competitive arena.
So which are you siding with? Is VMware still the standard for enterprise virtualization, has Hyper-V finally won you over, or is there another option you favor?
If you’re curious about how the free hypervisor options stack up, take a look at our take on VMware vs. VirtualBox