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Where Do Hypervisors Go From Here?

The history of the personal computer is a series of wars--operating system wars, network OS wars, browser wars and then virtualization wars. But while virtualization at first followed the lead of the OS in battles between hypervisors, such as VMWare’s vSphere and Microsoft’s Hyper-V, virtualization is increasingly following the leads of the other pieces of infrastructure before it and is enabling user organizations to set up heterogeneous virtualization networks by supporting multiple hypervisors.

"Multiple OS environments are the norm today," says Torsten Volk, senior analyst for Enterprise Management Associates, a Boulder, Colo., analyst firm. "Virtualization has significantly fueled this trend."

While VMware has led in the virtualization marketplace, user organizations are increasingly looking to other alternatives-- both in virtualization and in applications--due to its high cost. These include Microsoft’s Hyper-V, which Windows Server users can often receive for free, says Volk. Users are also looking at free and open-source alternatives such as KVM, which is gaining ground, he adds.

Without the limit of having applications that support only one hypervisor, there will be nothing keeping a user from implementing multiple VMWare, Microsoft and other virtualization systems, secure in the knowledge that in-house applications will be able to support all of them. "VMware is no longer the best choice in all cases," says Volk. "The challenge now is to assemble a multihypervisor environment that cost-effectively meets all requirements."

However, this could result in an increase in the number of virtualized servers, with the requisite increases in memory and storage, as well as increases in the time spent to maintain them. Moreover, organizations will need to ensure that support staff members are available for all the different kinds of virtualization used, possibly increasing staff, as well.

All of this may result in virtualization functionality being built into the OS itself. (It is rumored that Windows 8 will have built-in virtualization.) In the same way that networking functionality was included in OSes, reducing the need for separate networking products, the integration of virtualization features in OSes may reduce or eliminate the need for separate virtualization products.

Microsoft is in a unique position where it can use its server OS to actively promote its hypervisor, Volk says. "Bundling together hypervisor and OS puts Microsoft into a strong position," he says. "Obviously, Microsoft's upcoming System Center 2012 also constitutes a big argument for many customers to give Hyper-V a try."

Of course, that's bad news for virtualization vendors, which may find themselves in the same position as browser vendors when Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer into the operating system (ultimately resulting in a costly lawsuit). On the other hand, with users increasingly wanting to implement multiple hypervisors, the result may end up being one happy, virtualized family.

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