VMware's version of flexibility lacks Microsoft Hyper-V

By Jon Brodkin, Network World |  Virtualization, VMware, vSphere

VMware promises new levels of flexibility in the data center with vSphere, its cloud operating system, but is still promoting vendor lock-in by refusing to support competing virtualization products.

[ See also: VMware vows to overhaul data center with "cloud operating system" ]

Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager is capable of managing virtual machines created both with Microsoft's Hyper-V platform and VMware's ESX hypervisor. Despite the presence of Hyper-V and Citrix's XenServer, and the fact that many data centers use multiple virtualization products, VMware has consistently claimed that there is no market pressure for them to support competing hypervisors.

"We're taking the stance that, if and when there is a critical mass for something to be supported, we will support it," says Bogomil Balkansky, VMware's vice president of product marketing.

VMware Tuesday announced vSphere, the new version of its hypervisor and related management tools, promising the ability to aggregate large amounts of virtual resources into a centrally managed computing pool. (See related story, Does VMware vSphere solve IT's worries about Cloud?)  

VMware's customers would rather the company spend time improving its own software than managing other hypervisors, Balkansky says. But VMware's parent company, EMC, has taken the opposite stance with Symmetrix V-Matrix,  a new storage array designed for virtual data centers.

EMC has optimized V-Max for VMware's hypervisor and Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization software, though not for Citrix's XenServer. "We see right now that the majority of customer demand is for VMware and Microsoft," explains Bob Wambach, senior director of Symmetrix marketing.

EMC can't afford to turn aside Microsoft, notes Laura DiDio, lead analyst with Information Technology Intelligence. Whether VMware should support Microsoft or other virtualization vendors is not so clear.

When asked if VMware supporting only its own hypervisor promotes vendor lock-in, DiDio said "of course."

"That's a tricky tap dance all the vendors are playing," she says. "They don't, in any way, shape or form, want to support other people's platforms. However, given that it's a buyer's market they can't appear to be too recalcitrant, because the customers will push back and say 'hey, you don't care about us.' They have to give lip service to it."

VMware is probably reluctant to support competing products right now because Citrix and Microsoft have both made strong moves against the company, and with vSphere VMware is trying to stay two steps ahead of them, DiDio says. "They have to feel we're number one, so we have a big target on our backs," she says.

On the other hand, VMware can credibly claim that its competitors have not built a virtualization platform robust enough to demand its support, says Pund-IT analyst Charles King.

"Vendor lock-in is a tough call in the virtualization space," King says. "In VMware's case, they're offering levels of features and functionality in their own technologies and solutions that are a good deal further down the road than what their competitors are offering right now. I think they can believably make the pitch that 'why bother supporting the competitors if we have to take a step back in order to do so?'"

Most large enterprises already support multiple virtualization platforms, particularly if they are using Unix servers and mainframes, King says. Adapting to additional x86 hypervisors is "not that onerous," he says.

VMware's management tools also support only virtualized servers, and not physical resources. Hardware vendors themselves are moving toward multiplatform systems, but it's still difficult to manage both physical and virtual machines in the same pane of glass, he says.

"Having a single console [for physical and virtual resources] could provide great value, but it may not be logistically possible in a lot of environments," King says.

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