How Secure Is VMware’s Virtualisation Lead?

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There’s plenty of competition for VMware in making virtualised data centres, despite its strong lead. Is now the time to switch to Hyper-V or XenServer, asks Cameron Sturdevant?

When I reviewed VMware vSphere 4 in June, I gave it an eWEEK Labs Analyst’s Choice. I clearly think the platform, formerly called VMware Infrastructure, is solid, and so do the many organisations out there that have implemented it.

Recently, eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks asked me what I thought it would take for organisations to switch from VMware to some other virtualisation platform — for example, Microsoft’s Hyper-V or one of the many open-source Xen-based implementations, including Citrix XenServer.

Often, one of the first concerns I hear about is licensing costs. The thing to look at with virtualisation is overall costs, not just up-front fees. This isn’t to say that license fees aren’t an important point for negotiation. It does mean that features and functionality must be considered in the context of cost. Both my Honda Civic and a BMW 328i are capable of carrying five passengers on a long trip. But that doesn’t mean they have the same overall capabilities, and that has to be considered—even if the Civic came for free.

When it comes to fitness for duty, VMware vSphere is the leader when it comes to high-performance data centre operations. While its competitors are still filling out important areas to ensure complete coverage, VMware’s products are setting the benchmark for what “complete” means. This by no means implies that there is no room left for improvement in VMware’s products. For example, security, even with the VMsafe initative, is an area that needs more attention.

VMware vSphere 4 also includes features that are unmatched for high-performance data centres at this time. Support for a distributed switch that can span multiple hosts and now the ability to implement the Cisco Nexus 1000v virtual switch are significant innovations. Further, the ability for organisations to enlist the aid of their Cisco engineers to rationalise virtual network operations is huge. The expanded network support lays the foundation for expanding virtual machine use by removing network implementation roadblocks.

That said, other virtualisation platforms have compelling characteristics.
Microsoft Hyper-V is likely “good enough” for modest virtualisation projects and is being bolstered by a host of supporting management tools. System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 comes backed by Microsoft’s years of experience in creating management tools for one of the most widely deployed operating systems. Further, there are fleets of IT professionals who are well-schooled in using Microsoft’s products, which means that there is no shortage of trained staff who have the basic knowledge to support a Hyper-V implementation.

Citrix has added significant features in Version 5.5 of XenServer, including advances in backups and taking virtual machine snapshots. XenServer carries significantly lower license fees than vSphere – the base product is a no-cost download, while the Essentials package provides high availability and other features necessary for data centre operations — but it mirrors much of the look and feel of vSphere.

Effective management is still the key to controlling the ongoing operational costs associated with virtualisation. As such, the final consideration when considering VMware vs. other platforms is, what tools are available to help run the virtualisation platform on a day-to-day basis?

For more than a year, I’ve been pitched on products designed to work in the virtual data centre, from firewalls to patch management systems to inventory control systems. The universal constant in these pitches is, “Of course they work with VMware, and the vendor is waiting to see what other platforms it will support based on customer demand.”

Especially these days, I’d rather be able to buy cost-controlling tools now rather than bet that those tools will be available for my platform of choice.

So, for now, at least, the VMware choice still seems to be the most solid.

Cameron Sturdevant is Technical Director at eWEEK.com