VMWare is in Microsoft\’s sights

Microsoft has released its Virtual Server product, aimed at VMWare. Price is an aggressive $499.

I have mixed feelings about it.VMWare is expensive, with a list price of about 8 times as much. But I’m still not terribly impressed.

For one, with VMWware ESX Server, you get everything you need, including a host OS. With Microsoft Virtual Server, you have to provide Windows Server 2003. By the time you do that, Virtual Server is about half the price of VMWare.

I think you can make up the rest of that difference very quickly on TCO. VMWare’s professional server products run on a Linux base that requires about 256 MB of overhead. Ever seen Windows Server 2003 on 256 megs of RAM? The CPU overhead of the VMWare host is also very low. When you size a VMWare server, you can pretty much go on a 1:1 basis. Add up the CPU speed and memory of the servers you’re consolidating, buy a server that size, put VMWare on it, and then move your servers to it. They’ll perform as well, if not a little bit better since at peak times they can steal some resources from an idle server.

Knowing Microsoft, I’d want to give myself at least half gig of RAM and at least half a gigahertz of CPU time for system overhead, minimum. Twice that is probably more realistic.

Like it or not, Linux is a reality these days. Linux is an outstanding choice for a lot of infrastructure-type servers like DHCP, DNS, Web services, mail services, spam filtering, and others, even if you want to maintain a mixed Linux/Windows environment. While Linux will run on MS Virtual Server’s virtual hardware and it’s only a matter of time before adjustments are made to Linux to make it run even better, there’s no official support for it. So PHBs will be more comfortable running their Linux-based VMs under VMWare than under Virtual Server 2003. (There’s always User-Mode Linux for Linux virtual hosts, but that will certainly be an under-the-radar installation in a lot of shops.)

While there have been a number of vulnerabilities in VMWare’s Linux host this year, the number is still lower than Windows 2003. I’d rather take my virtual host server down once a quarter for patching than once a month.

I wouldn’t put either host OS on a public Internet address though. Either one needs to be protected behind a firewall, with its host IP address on a private network, to protect the host as much as possible. Remember, if the host is compromised, you stand to lose all of the servers on it.

The biggest place where Microsoft gives a price advantage is on the migration of existing servers. Microsoft’s migration tool is still in beta, but it’s free–at least for now. VMWare’s P2V Assistant costs a fortune. I was quoted $2,000 for the software and $8,000 for mandatory training, and that was to migrate 25 servers.

If your goal is to get those NT4 servers whose hardware is rapidly approaching the teenage years onto newer hardware with minimal disruption–every organization has those–then Virtual Server is a no-brainer. Buy a copy of Virtual Server and new, reliable server hardware, migrate those aging machines, and save a fortune on your maintenance contract.

I’m glad to see VMWare get some competition. I’ve found it to be a stable product once it’s set up, but the user interface leaves something to be desired. When I build or change a new virtual server, I find myself scratching my head whether certain options are under “Hardware” or under “Memory and Processors”. So it probably takes me twice as long to set up a virtual server as it ought to, but that’s still less time than it takes to spec and order a server, or, for that matter, to unbox a new physical server when it arrives.

On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens to Microsoft products once they feel like they have no real competition. Notice how quickly new, improved versions of Internet Explorer come out? And while Windows XP mostly works, when it fails, it usually fails spectacularly. And don’t even get me started on Office.

The pricing won’t stay the same either. While the price of hardware has come down, the price of Microsoft software hasn’t come down nearly as quickly, and in some cases has increased. That’s not because Microsoft is inherently ruthless or even evil (that’s another discussion), it’s because that’s what monopolies have to do to keep earnings at the level necessary to keep stockholders and the SEC happy. When you can’t grow your revenues by increasing your market share, you have to grow your revenues by raising prices. Watch Wal-Mart. Their behavior over the next couple of decades will closely monitor Microsoft’s. Since they have a bigger industry, they move more slowly. But that’s another discussion too.

The industry can’t afford to hand Microsoft another monopoly.

Some people will buy this product just because it’s from Microsoft. Others will buy it just because it’s cheaper. Since VMWare’s been around a good long while and is mature and stable and established as an industry standard, I hope that means it’ll stick around a while too, and come down in price.

But if you had told me 10 years ago that Novell Netware would have single-digit marketshare now, I wouldn’t have believed you. Then again, the market’s different in 2004 than it was in 1994.

I hope it’s different enough.

One thought on “VMWare is in Microsoft\’s sights

  • September 14, 2004 at 9:53 pm

    I’ve used older versions of both and I definately liked vmware better.

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