You have to hand it to VMware. Right when the market seemed completely stable, the virtualization vendor releases its new vSphere 5 product with both an unparalleled enterprise virtualization feature set and a pernicious new licensing model constrained by virtual machine memory usage.
First, the good news. Latency requirements have been reduced for both conventional and storage vMotion, facilitating cloud-based machine migrations without breaking the bank on LAN speed connectivity options. Further, VMware now supports Apple's latest server operating system, 3-D acceleration for Windows-based systems, and USB 3.0. It's raised the cap on virtual CPUs to 32 with support for a terabyte of RAM, trumping its previous virtual CPU and memory constraints by a factor of four.
In addition, the company has refined the ESXi firewall for a stateless, policy- and service-oriented configuration and strengthened its high-availability infrastructure to support greater scalability with reduced resource constraints. In addition, vSphere 5 offers policy-based deployments via the new Auto Deploy feature, better management of NFS data stores, an enhanced storage API and I/O sharing mechanism, and one new feature unavailable anywhere else at any cost: storage DRS. That's right, campers: VMware will actually load-balance data store I/O by dynamically moving virtual machine volumes using storage vMotion.
So what does this mean for the rest of the market? Basically, VMware's competitors were one step behind in the enterprise. Now they're two. For small and midsize businesses, the game hasn't changed that much except that the price tag is bigger to use a VMware offering. The way I see things, the only market where version 5's new features sell without much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the higher cost is the enterprise private cloud market.
Sure, it's possible we'll see some high-availability service vendors or private SaaS apps using VMware as a backbone to build a software lease delivery model, but why wouldn't you run Xen and pay nada? Unless you offer your clients service-level agreements for 100% uptime, why pay for VMware? Even if you need high availability, why pay so much more just to use the premier vendor?
While you could technically have matched the "nada" price with ESXi free licensing in version 4, new constraints on memory make this impossible to do in version 5, hence VMware no longer offers a truly free enterprise hypervisor because it no longer scales without licensing. If you want to build white-box servers and sell a virtual private server service, you're going to throw together storage and resources on commodity hardware and run an open source hypervisor.
Any organization that's moderately proficient with technology can easily use open source Xen without any substantial difficulty -- and at zero cost. If you need support, numerous organizations support Xen running on their particular distros, in some cases with high-availability options. Ubuntu provides pay support through Canonical, while Red Hat offers three tiers of support per physical host machine and competitive licensing options for virtualizing multiple instances of licensed Red Hat Linux running on Red Hat with Xen hypervisor. SUSE offers paid support for Xen running on SUSE. Oracle (Solaris) provides support for Xen on Solaris.
So where is all this going? The clear trend is the commoditization of resources of all types into a single aggregate pool. But when we're talking about commoditization of resources, what we're really talking about is cloud, because cloud and virtualization are like yin and yang: They intensify and buffer each other.
Is VMware's new feature set attractive? Sure. Is it worth the cost in a tight economy? That's a decision each organization must make after careful analysis. But our take is that Microsoft and Citrix have an opening here that all the hot new features may not be able to block.