How to Choose the Right Hypervisor

Creating your own server bundles with the demise of Windows Small Business Server? Follow this handy hypervisor guide. By James E. Gaskin

When Microsoft announced the end of Windows Small Business Server, resellers were forced to create their own server bundles for clients from the hypervisor up. While enterprise resellers know the territory, some SBS-specific resellers have a learning curve.

Hypervisors (or virtual machine monitors) are systems that support one or more virtual machines, called guests, on a host server (the physical machine). The hypervisor software can be installed first (bare metal) or be hosted by an existing operating system.

The leading hypervisor provider is VMware, which has exploited its position as first to release production-ready virtual machine software to market dominance. Many expected Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor, available free and included in Windows Server 2012, to take the lead, but that has yet to happen.

"Even our smaller companies have figured out a way to budget for VMware," says Bill Cassidy, CTO of IT Partners, a 30-person IT firm headquartered in Tempe, Ariz. "We've not seen anyone move from VMware to Hyper-V. When people say server virtualization today, you assume VMware."

VMware's ESX and ESXi (a smaller system without the management console) lead the market by far. Microsoft's Hyper-V is in distant second, with XenServer by Citrix Systems third. Linux variations, led by KVM Kernel-based Virtual Machine, fall into the "other" category.

Greg Shields, senior partner at Concentrated Technology, a technology analysis, consulting, and education firm (www.concentratedtech.com), advises resellers to "take into account which hypervisor plugs best into your remote management tool." The one that works best with your existing tools should get the nod. That said, he adds, "When Hyper-V came out, it was so idiosyncratic lots of people just waited. [Microsoft's] third version, out with Server 2012, has prompted many to take a good hard look at Hyper-V."

True or not, Hyper-V suffers from the reputation of being unduly Microsoft-centric. VMware supports more operating systems, applications, and management tools than Hyper-V at this point. But Hyper-V's improvements make it an easy choice for Microsoft shops. Cassidy says it plainly: "The bulk of small business systems lean to Microsoft Server, MS-SQL, Exchange, and Active Directory. Why spend $5,000 to $10,000 on VMware when Hyper-V is right there?"

TALE OF TWO HYPERVISORS
Randy Hall, president of IT provider Worldlan Technology, based in Medina, Ohio, has moved customers from Windows Small Business Server. "We use Hyper-V, not VMware. Hyper-V is supported by Microsoft, comes with Server 2008 R2, and is my hypervisor of choice in the SMB market." That's a quote Microsoft will love; however, Hall continues: "In the data center, VMware is my platform of choice."

But VMware has an answer for free Hyper-V, as Michele Miller, president of Covington, La.-based Ener Systems, explains about moving from SBS. "We used VMware primarily because of familiarity with VMware. Another factor was that there was a free solution using ESXi."

Even people who use both, like Jordi Tejero, owner of CRS Technology Consultants, Cape Coral, Fla., lean toward VMware. "We do just about everything virtual today, even single-server environments. We primarily do VMware. Sometimes Hyper-V, but I would say 85 percent is VMware."

IT Partners, with branch offices in Tucson, Ariz., and Newport Beach, Calif., still rarely sees hypervisors other than VMware and Hyper-V, according to Cassidy. "We only see XenServer when customers are looking for the full Citrix Virtual Desktop Infrastructure stack. And some still run Hyper-V on the host to support the virtual machines running XenDesktop." He worries that now that Red Hat has moved to the KVM family, Xen may become even less visible.

Has Microsoft's Hyper-V reached a point you can recommend it to customers with full confidence it will run well in a production environment? Absolutely. Does that mean Microsoft will close the gap on the huge lead of VMware? Not any time soon, and certainly not in larger companies.

"These days, the major hypervisors are roughly equivalent," says Shields. "Focus less on the hypervisor and more on the tools used to manage it."

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