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Microsoft, Citrix And KVM Continue To Erode VMware's Virtualization Domination

As virtualization continues its proliferation throughout the enterprise, Microsoft, Citrix and KVM are all expected to be strong contenders to erode VMware's market share, say industry observers.

One of the main reasons VMware may be losing steam is its pricing--specially in Europe, where European customers are "quite bothered by large VMware price increases" while Microsoft's Hyper-V is free, says Joe Clabby, president, Clabby Analytics, a research firm focused on infrastructure, OSes and hardware. While Hyper-V lags in performance, he says, the product is becoming better integrated with Microsoft systems and software management environments. Clabby maintains that some VMware customers are also looking elsewhere because of a need to integrate the Windows tier with other systems environments, and that an interest in open source environments seems to be growing.

That's a view shared by Jake McTigue, IT manager for Carwild, a manufacturer of medical-grade polyurethane hydrophilic foam products. In an August 2011 InformationWeek report, Hypervisor Alternatives: Putting the Squeeze on VMware, McTigue wrote that both Hyper-V and XenServer from Citrix can match VMware's ESX hypervisor in areas such as live migration, high availability, virtual networking and guest OS support for less money. Like Clabby, McTigue says, "Microsoft also links virtualization management into its overall systems management platform, rather than forcing IT to operate a separate management console for virtual machines."

While McTigue says VMware is still the lead platform for server virtualization in half of companies, according to an InformationWeek Analytics Virtualization Security survey, he expects "Microsoft and Citrix's numbers to increase over time because the two companies have narrowed the features and functions gap between their products and VMware's." McTigue, who is also a senior consulting network engineer for NSI, also points out that it is unlikely that enterprise organizations will standardize on a single hypervisor.

Clabby notes that there has been steady growth in Hyper-V market share, but in the low and midmarket, as opposed to the more lucrative enterprise level. And the reason enterprises have not rushed into Hyper-V adoption, he says, is that it remains behind VMware in terms of performance and certain features.

A newcomer in the virtualization arena is open source KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), a virtual machine implementation that exploits an operating system's kernel. In May 2011, IBM and Red Hat, along with several other vendors, formed the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA), an organization chartered with promoting KVM adoption. KVM has been ported to Intel VT-x and AMD-V; it has also been ported to S/390 architecture (IBM's System z mainframe environment); PowerPC microprocessors and IA-64. An ARM (advanced RISC machine) port is in progress, according to Clabby.

"There is huge growth potential for KVM--to date, 241 vendors have joined OVA, despite the seemingly overwhelming market share already claimed by VMware, Microsoft and Citrix,'' Clabby says. Despite criticism that KVM is "too little/too late," he points to the fact that Microsoft's virtualization market share was in the single digits when it launched Hyper-V in 2008, and it is now it is expected to reach a 27% market share. "What has happened is that Microsoft's product has matured, and demand by users of Microsoft's other software for integrated virtualization solutions has driven Hyper-V's rise,'' says Clabby. "I expect the same thing to happen to KVM." Although it is immature now, KVM will gain steam as people become aware of the cost reductions and performance and management improvements, he claims. "When the worldwide open source community jumps into action," he says, "I think it is going to surprise a lot of people when they see how quickly KVM matures."

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