Virtualization Vendors: VMware vs. Microsoft vs. Citrix

Tuesday Jun 22nd 2010 by David Strom
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The leading virtualization vendors have been actively maneuvering for market share. Who is ahead? Take a look at the virtualization product comparison chart.

There has been lots of activity in the past six months since we last took a look at what the three major virtualization vendors Citrix, Microsoft and VMware, have been doing (see the most recent virtualization comparison: Virtual Server Comparison: Xen vs. Microsoft vs. VMware, 2010).

Citrix XenServer v5.6 is now available, released at the end of May. It has four different versions, starting with a free one that includes some utilities, and working up to a Platinum version at $5,000 that includes everything. They continue to manage both their own hypervisor and Microsoft's Hyper-V, too.

While Microsoft hasn't made any major changes to Hyper-V since they released Windows Server 2008 R2 late last year, the combination of R2 with Windows 7 makes for a more potent relationship. As more corporate desktops migrate over to Win7, expect to see more management tools later this year take advantage of this combination.

Finally, VMware has been busy as well. Earlier this summer, they came out with Workstation 7.1 with better support for Windows 7 clients. Look for some major announcements around their annual user meeting this fall. Here are three things to watch in the virtualization market for the remainder of 2010:

1. Migration and conversion tools continue to improve.

Hyper-V now has the ability to do live migration of running VMs between two hosts without any noticeable interruption of service. You can also migrate between hosts that are running different physical CPUs, such as from an Intel to an AMD server. (Download a white paper from Microsoft that covers Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V Live Migration .)

Citrix has its XenConvert, its physical-to-virtual conversion tool and XenMotion, its live migration utility. The Platinum version of XenServer comes with physical provisioning and Site Recovery tools. The latter is a management application that has a series of graphical-based wizards that will take you through the various steps involved to create a plan, add the remote site, link the local and remote storage pools together, and test to make sure the plan actually does work.

Site Recovery will automatically make periodic disk snapshots of the protected VM. As part of its test process, the Storage Recovery software tool can actually bring up a new VM in an isolated virtual test network and make sure that it can start and replicate all the necessary data from the cloned server on the secondary site. While it only runs on limited storage hardware at the moment, it’s a good first step towards helping automate this complex process.

VMware has repackaged its vCenter Converter tool, which is still free. And there is a new VMware Go Web-service that is a new front-end management tool to walk you through the initial setup and VM creation. vSphere 4, its management tool, now comes in six different versionsstarting at $495 and topping out at $5,000.

Also on the VMware front, a new version of Hytrust's Appliance version 2.0 allows IT administrators to set up policies, access rules, and other security measures to segregate your virtual infrastructure from your users. This can prevent VMs from being copied or inadvertently stopped by users, for example.

In the past several months, a few new conversion tools have been released that are worthy of a closer look: Zinstall and Prowess' SmartDeploy. The former is used to convert a running Windows XP desktop to dual-boot XP and Win7 using some clever virtualization techniques. Unlike other migration solutions, you have your original XP machine that you can add and remove programs and generally treat as a real instance of that OS. The latter uses a VMDK virtual disk file and then converts it to a bootable Windows 7 desktop.

2. Better clustering through higher availability.

As virtualization becomes more the rule rather than the exception in corporate data centers, the three vendors are making it easier to add high availability features to their hypervisors and virtual servers.

All three vendors have strengthened their ability to provide more capable disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity services using their server virtualization line of products. These have lots of appeal for enterprises that previously would have either considered a full DR solution too expensive or who are using regular tape backups and finding them cumbersome.

A combination of services -- including high availability, virtual storage management and near-term server failover -- that were previously only the province of very expensive and customized clustered configurations are now available in the virtual world and can serve as a good substitute for many enterprise's DR applications, too. This is because VMs are easily portable and replicated across the Internet, so you can quickly get a secondary site up and running when the primary server has failed.

One of the issues with custom clustering solutions is that they require identical hardware and operating system versions for each physical machine that was part of the cluster. Virtualized servers are more forgiving and flexible, not to mention less expensive. Another issue is that many clusters required very high-speed Internet links to support a remote DR site -- virtualized solutions are also less demanding of connectivity.

3. Private clouds are here.

The vendors are virtualizing more and more pieces of the datacenter and include virtual network switches (what VMware calls vShield Zones) so that your network traffic never leaves the virtualized world but can still have some of the same level of security that your physical network has. You can set up firewalls that stay with the VMs as they migrate between hypervisors, create security policies, and set up virtual LANs and other tasks. Think of setting up a security perimeter around your virtual datacenter. VMware has a series of what it calls its vCloud products to make creating and managing virtual private clouds easier. Citrix is touting the fact that they power Amazon's Web Services, perhaps the largest public cloud computing instance. They have partnered with Rackspace to deliver a private cloud offering.

Microsoft is somewhat behind the curve but they have lined up an impressive collection of third-party hosting providers that will sell you virtualized apps online. They have boosted their Live services offerings in the past several months too. They also acquired Opalis at the end of last year, and are incorporating their datacenter workflow automation platform into their own management tools. You can download a free trial of the software here.

Two new entrants to the cloud computing services arena are Hexagrid VxDataCenter and ReliaCloud, both of which offer a wide range of infrastructure services including high availability, hardware firewalls, and load balancing too.

virtualization, microsoft, vwmware, citrix
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