Both Microsoft and Citrix have been putting a lot of competitive pressure on VMware. Microsoft with its “free hypervisor” bundled into Windows Server 2008, and Citrix with its Xen “free hypervisor” strategy and message. These pressures forced VMware to make VMware ESXi into a free download last year, and then raised questions as to exactly how VMware was going to deliver enough value outside of the hypervisor to get customers to continue to pay the premium prices VMware demands for its solutions.
VMware Fault Tolerance
While HA provides continuous availability for individual servers, VMware Fault Tolerance provides continuous availability for entire application systems across physically distributed instances of computing infrastructure. Using its vLockstep technology to synchronize data, VMware Fault Tolerance allows instant failover with no downtime from an application system in one location, to another application system in another location – potentially even one that lives in the cloud. Neither Citrix nor Microsoft have similar capabilities, although Citrix has a relationship with Marathon Technologies which provides similar functionality with its everRun VM product, and a similar capability has been announced for Microsoft Hyper-V.
VMware VMSafe is a new hypervisor level security initiative that claims to allow for a level of security in virtualized systems that was not possible in their physical predecessors. By allowing for security functionality to be implemented by third parties with access to the VMSafe API, the security vendors get the same visibility into data that is entering the guests as does the hypervisor itself. This promises to allow security threats to be dealt with before they even touch the guest OS, or the applications running on the guest OS. VMware already lists VMSafe partnerships with 28 security vendors. As of now, neither Microsoft nor Citrix seem to have an analogous capability. This is particularly an issue for Microsoft since the company is known for its ability to create ecosystems of complementary vendors and products around its solutions.
Third party such Thirdbrigade will integrate vSafe in their VM security tools such the very good VM Protection
VMware vNetwork Distributed Switch
The VMware vNetwork Distributed Switch allows for network configuration across multiple host computers to be centralized, and allows for third party products like the Cisco Nexus 1000v to implement their functionality completely as software running inside of the VMware environment. The combination of the vNetwork interfaces and these third party products then allows for the networking functionality that network administrators rely upon in the physical environment to be assigned to guests in the virtual environment – ensuring that networking policies travel with guests as they move around the virtual infrastructure. Accomplishing the same level of centralized configuration management in a Hyper-V or Xen environment has not been announced and would most likely require a Powershell script. A port of the Cisco software switch to the Hyper-V or Xen environments has also not been announced yet.
VMware vCenter CapacityIQ
With VMware vCenter Capacity IQ VMware appears to be delivering the basics of a capacity management solution. The key features of the solution are the ability to perform “What-If” analyses to determine the impacts of potential changes upon required capacity, the ability to control sprawl by finding unused or underused VMs, and the ability to forecast capacity usage far enough out into the future to be able to purchase and implement capacity before a shortfall occurs. Similar capabilities exist in a variety of third party products from vendors like VKernel, Veeam, VizionCore and Systar, and are not present in the management products that accompany Hyper-V and Xen. Once missing pieces in all of these offerings is a focus upon I/O operations at the LUN and spindle level which continues to be the exclusive domain of Akorri.
VMware vCenter Data Recovery
Backing up a VMware environment is going to be addressed with VMware vCenter Data Recovery. This module promises fast backup and recovery, simple configuration and management of backup jobs, and de-duplication of backup storage to save upon backup space and cost. These kinds of capabilities exist now in third party products like Veeam Backup 2.0 for VI3. Implementing similar functionality in Hyper-V or Xen requires the development and maintenance of scripts.
A long awaited tool based on VCB with a GUI now. There are still good VM backup products out there such vRanger Pro at Vizioncore
VMware vCenter ConfigControl
The mantra’s of centralized and easy management are brought to the issue of configuration control and compliance with VMware vCenter ConfigControl. This new module promises greater visibility into configuration and policy compliance across the virtual infrastructure, and elimination of compliance drift through automation of compliance monitoring and management. While the management consoles for Hyper-V and Xen provide some of this functionality, VMware has significantly raised the bar. Users of Hyper-V and Xen might want to look at DynamicOps or Fortisphere for similar cross-platform functionality.
VMware vCenter Orchestrator
VMware vCenter Orchestrator allows both pre-built and custom built workflows to be centrally stored and deployed across the virtual environment. While both Microsoft and Citrix offer scripting and management functions, neither offer a library of component based workflows that can be used to automate the life cycle of guests in a virtual environment. Similar functionality seems to be available via the Enigmatic Virtual Orchestrator which claims Hyper-V support.
VMware vCenter Chargeback
As production physical servers owned by business units are replaced by a shared virtual infrastructure owned by IT, the need arises to fairly allocate the costs of the shared infrastructure back to the business units. VMware vCenter Chargeback allows the capture of CPU, Memory and Storage costs, and the chargeback for the costs of the shared environment via allocation or utilization based methods. Similar capabilties are not built into Hyper-V or Xen, but VKernel has announced support for Hyper-V in their chargeback appliance.
VMware vCenter AppSpeed
One of the most vexing issues that stands in the way of virtualizing more business critical applications is the challenges associated with guaranteeing applications service levels for virtualized applications. The problems start with the fact that virtualizing applications makes measuring their service levels through monitoring of resource utilization both no longer work as well, nor as relevant and accurate. This means that the focus for the measurement of applications service levels needs to shift to measuring response times from the perspective of the end users across all virtualized applications. VMware acquired B-hive in 2008, and is integrating the B-hive technology into its next release in the form of VMware vCenter AppSpeed. AppSpeed dynamically discovers and maps all layers of the virtualized applications, and then determines end-to-end response times broken down by the layers and resources that comprise the application system. Similar functionality is not present in the Hyper-V or Xen suites of products, but is available from a wide variety of third party vendors like Akorri, BlueStripe, vmSight, VizionCore, and Veeam. The key issue facing enterprises making a choice in this arena is the degree to which applications span multiple virtualization platforms. AppSpeed is likely to be very VMware centric, while third party solutions are likely to be more adept at handling the cross-platform cases.
VMware is highly reliant upon the back end SAN to provide much of the flexibility and redundancy that it can deliver. A vCenter Storage Management module is conspicuous in its absence in the list on the VMware site. Having announced the new storage API’s at VMworld and garnered statements of support from all of the significant storage vendors, one would think that there would be more meat on the bones here. Perhaps this will all be addressed with the PowerPath features in vSphere (VI4), so we will just have to wait and see. This is one area where both Microsoft and Citrix have a significant opportunity to aggressively build their own ecosystems due to the fact that some storage providers are less than happy about the close (ownership based) relationship between EMC and VMware.
While 2008 was the year when the virtualization market ceased to be a VMware only party with the arrival of Microsoft, Citrix and Red Hat in the picture, 2009 appears to be the year in which VMware will claim to significantly advance the state of the art relative to its competitors and all will be judged on how important those claimed differences will be when they show up in reality. The VMware product roadmap creates challenges for every vendor in this space. VMware must prove that it can deliver on these new products, and make them actually be as valuable and differentiating as they are claimed to be in their initial marketing. Other virtualization platform vendors (Microsoft, Citrix, and Red Hat) must now decide how to respond to this dramatically higher bar – with either internal development, or acquisition of third party vendors that fill in the holes in their portfolios. ISVs who target this space with point products that are threatened with a “rollup” into the VMware suite will need to sharpen their differentiation and value proposition in the VMware market and rapidly add support for the competing virtualization platforms. It is going to be an interesting year.