Virtualization: Microsoft's Price Versus VMware's Features

Microsoft is betting many IT shops won't pay for VMware's more sophisticated features.

For companies using virtual servers to run critical applications, live migration is highly desirable, since it lets data centers swap running instances of critical virtual servers between physical systems with zero downtime.

VMware has live migration, but Microsoft doesn't, and won't until its next release of Windows Server 2008, due in 2010. When Microsoft officially launched its virtualization products recently, Bob Muglia, senior VP of Microsoft's server and tools business, downplayed the importance of the feature, which in the VMware product lineup is called VMotion. "There is no magic in VMotion. It's just a feature, and we'll have that feature in the next release," Muglia said.

Instead, Muglia and company pushed two themes last week at Microsoft's virtualization launch event: Its products are much cheaper than market-leading VMware, and they fit with the Microsoft software and in-house skills companies already have.

Microsoft chief operating officer Kevin Turner made much of the cost savings of the company's portfolio of virtualization offerings, claiming that a side-by-side cost comparison of virtualizing five host computers would total $21,200 on the Microsoft platform versus $61,400 on the VMware infrastructure. And since most data center staff already are Windows-savvy, using Microsoft tools to manage Microsoft or VMware servers will mean less training, he said. VMware declined comment.

Bob Muglia, senior VP of Microsoft's server and tools business

Muglia: 'No magic' in VMware
Companies such as Heidelberger Druckmaschinen show this competition in action. The German printing press manufacturer started virtualizing with VMware and still uses it on about 10 servers that need the high-availability VMotion live migration feature, says IT director Axel Junghans. But as a Microsoft-SAP shop, it's an early adopter of Microsoft's products, including Hyper-V, and is increasingly using them to consolidate the company's 400 physical servers and reduce and standardize the number of apps on employee desktops.

Talx, a provider of HR and payroll services, is another early adopter of Hyper-V and Virtual Machine Manager where the choice was driven by an existing relationship with Microsoft. "We are a .Net shop for all of our development, and we're moving most of our applications to 64-bit to get better scale," says Bryan Garcia, Talx's VP of technology. Choosing Microsoft virtualization software meant lower training costs, he says.

Turner also went beyond virtualization to spell out Microsoft's new "vision statement" developed by the new leadership team of CEO Steve Ballmer, chief software architect Ray Ozzie, chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie, Muglia, and himself. Three decades ago, co-founder Bill Gates staked out a mission of building software to run on every desktop and server in the world. The new vision is to build software that leverages the Internet to operate anywhere on a "world of devices."

Microsoft's Lineup

>> Application Virtualization 4.5 (App-V):
Desktop app virtualization and streaming upgrade bundled into a Desktop Optimization Pack.

>> Hyper-V Server 2008:
Hypervisor available in October as a free download. Also part of Windows Server 2008.

>> System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008:
Management tool supports hypervisors from multiple vendors, including VMware.
That means spreading its $8 billion-a-year R&D budget across four areas: Vista-enabled desktop computing; entertainment software for the Xbox and other devices; consumer cloud computing such as search; and the commercial aspects of the cloud, including virtualization and software such as Exchange Server, SharePoint, Live Meeting, Communications Server, and Outlook.

Microsoft's virtualization portfolio and strategy have significantly expanded and matured since its 2002 acquisition of Connectix, which laid the foundation for the company's initial Virtual PC and Virtual Server products. The portfolio now spans the server, desktop, application, and management layers of virtualization. The strategy of leveraging its Windows Server installed base, differentiating itself by using end-to-end virtual and physical Windows management tools, and offering lower-cost (but not as technologically sophisticated) alternatives to VMware may pay off and make Microsoft a leader in the virtualization market.

The current versions of VMware ESX Server and Virtual Infrastructure provide more functionality than Hyper-V, but Microsoft is betting its virtualized server farms that many IT shops won't be willing to pay VMware's price for the difference.

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