VMWorld preview: End user choice grows as virtualisation competition hots up

With another VMworld kicking off next week, host VMware faces controversy and a far more competitive virtualisation market than existed when the company began holding the annual conference five years ago

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Once X86 server virtualisation was revolutionary in the IT world, but the hypervisor is fast becoming a commodity, forcing VMware to differentiate itself by building bigger and better tools to manage virtualised data centers.

VMware has done well in broadening its technological capabilities, but still faces threats from rivals Microsoft and Citrix, and smaller vendors such as Parallels, analysts say.

"VMware understands they're in a race," says Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

Earlier this year, the Burton Group said VMware's hypervisor was the only one on the market that was ready for production-class workloads in the enterprise. But things change quickly -- Citrix recently added new security features allowing its own hypervisor to be certified as "production-ready" by Burton Group. Microsoft is catching up as well, having added live migration to its System Centre Virtual Machine Manager, a key capability allowing movement of virtualised workloads from one server to another with no downtime.

Both Microsoft and Citrix are attacking VMware for instituting new policies which allegedly restrict competition at next week's VMworld conference, to be held in San Francisco from Monday to Thursday. Citrix claims VMware denied its application to sponsor VMworld, and Microsoft says the new policies will prevent it from demonstrating its latest virtualisation technology on the show floor.

The sniping among vendors is illustrative of how much the virtualisation market is changing. VMware completely dominated the market just a few years ago, and is still the acknowledged market share leader, but IT customers have more viable options now. Numerous variations on the open source Xen hypervisor are on the market, at much lower prices than VMware's enterprise-class product lines.

Citrix and Microsoft each offer their own hypervisor, and have teamed up to provide common management tools for customers who want to use both. Microsoft's tools even manage VMware's hypervisor, whereas VMware has refused to manage products from competing vendors.

New survey numbers from Information Technology Intelligence Corp. (ITIC) show growing interest in Microsoft's virtualisation tools, and also that many IT shops are using multiple server hypervisors.

The survey of 700 IT managers worldwide found 30% using VMware's ESX Server, and 26% using VMware Server, a free version of VMware's platform. Meanwhile, 32% were using Microsoft's Hyper-V, and 20% were using Microsoft's Virtual Server, an older product. Citrix XenServer clocked in at 9%. Parallels, which has focused on the Mac market, is at 8%.

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