COMPARISON: Microsoft vs. VMware

VMware's performance trumps Hyper-V's price, writes David Davis.

Microsoft is the largest competitor after VMware in the virtualisation space, and its presence is prompting a discussion about whether Hyper-V will overtake VMware ESX Server as the dominant hypervisor. The VMware versus Microsoft versus everyone else debate is a passionate war that reminds me of the Windows versus Mac OS battle. Let's hope that the debate never ends up in the legal system, even though it will likely be argued about in the court of public opinion for some time. Although I am sure you have your own opinions on the subject, allow me to offer my take on this contest.

VMware can boast maturity
VMware is obviously the most experienced company when it comes to delivering a virtualisation product. The company has 10 years of virtualisation experience and a huge customer base, including 100% of the Fortune 500 companies and 92% of the Fortune 1000, totaling over 100,000 customers worldwide. VMware also holds 11 virtualisation patents, and in 2007 their revenue hit the $US1.33 billion mark.

This is in comparison to Microsoft which has a new virtualisation product, little enterprise virtualisation experience, and, to date, no Fortune 500 customers who have adopted their enterprise virtualisation product in a production environment. Ask yourself, which of these companies sounds more qualified to deliver your enterprise virtualisation solution?

Most IT pros working in the enterprise are experienced enough to know that, for the sake of your job stability and comfort, you don't want to deploy bleeding-edge technology. For those of you who wait to deploy operating systems until the first or second service pack has been released, I doubt that you'll want to deploy Hyper-V. It is still in the "release candidate" phase, which is the phase right after beta testing. VMware ESX has been available since 2001, when it was released as version 1.0.

Hyper-V isn't ready for the enterprise
VMware tops Microsoft on a number of fronts. First, VMware offers packaged support in three levels which are easy to purchase along with your licensed VMware products. On the other hand, Hyper-V is still a "release candidate" so the question of whether support is even available is up in the air.

If you were to get support for Hyper-V, you are really just buying support for Windows Server 2008. Can you imagine calling with a virtualisation question and having to go through the same technicians who deal with print server questions, IIS questions, and Windows patch questions?

I don't have to talk about the reliability concerns of the Windows Server operating system; all I have to do is to mention "Windows" and "reliability" together and most IT pros will snicker. Why would you incorporate your virtualisation platform, or even relate it, to Windows Server? The following is a direct quote from the Hyper-V release notes in the known issues section:

"A computer may stop responding after a crash dump occurs when the hypervisor fails. When this issue occurs, a crash dump file will be created and the computer will display a blue screen. To fix the issue, reboot the computer."

So, just reboot Hyper-V to "fix the issue." Would you choose this platform to virtualize hundreds of servers, if it has this statement in the release notes as a known issue?

Furthermore, Microsoft Hyper-V requires that you have 64 bit hardware which marginalizes those of us who aren't buying new servers on which to virtualize. In fact one of the benefits of virtualisation, in my mind, is being able to use your existing hardware and do more with it.

Lastly, ESX Server is far superior in terms of features. Most experts and pundits agree that Microsoft's "Quick Migration" doesn't even compare to VMotion, citing a gap when machines resume. Additionally, VMware's High Availability (HA) brings back servers in less than 2 seconds. Microsoft's host clustering is unrelated to virtualisation, more difficult to configure and slower to failover.

VMware's Distributed Resource Scheduler will dynamically load balance your virtual guest servers. Microsoft's Network Load Balancing is, again, unrelated to virtualisation and is just a network load balancing option for Windows servers. VMware's Storage VMotion, that can move a virtual guest and its storage from one SAN or local host system to another, is completely unmatched.

Comparing prices: VMware virtualisation and Microsoft
A common strategy for vendors struggling with experience, features, or quality of their product is to focus on price. The main argument of all of VMware's competitors is always going to be that their product "costs less." In reality they have to do this though because they cannot match VMware's 10 years of virtualisation experience.

So how does the price really compare? VMware ESX Server comes in a variety of bundles. The smallest version (ESXi) starts at $US495 and ranges up to $US1090 depending on the package. In addition, ESX 3i (or ESXi as it is now called) can be embedded in a new server from Dell and in the servers of several other manufacturers. It has been rumored that VMware will begin offering the embedded version of ESXi for free with any new server. That move could nullify all this talk about how Microsoft could take the market lead by "giving away" Hyper-V.

The VMware Infrastructure Foundation Suite, which replaces the Starter Suite, ranges from $US1540 to $US2640. This, again, depends on the level of support and functionality that you need. There are two other editions: Infrastructure Standard Suite, which ranges from $US3624 to $US4905, and the Enterprise Suite which ranges from $US6958 to $US9417. To get the centralized management application (VirtualCenter), you need to purchase it at a cost of somewhere between $6044 to $8180 based on the support and functionality package your infrastructure needs.

To get Microsoft's Hyper-V, all you need to do is to buy an edition of Windows Server 2008. The cost for that is between $US999 and $US3999. If you use Windows Server 2008 Enterprise edition, at a cost of close to $US4000, you can run up to 4 guests inside of it without having to buy additional Windows licenses.

However, if you go with Windows Server 2008 standard you will have to buy a license for the host system, as well as each guest OS. And does this include support? No. Are the features the same between ESXi and Hyper-V? No. Suddenly, Hyper-V isn't as free as it sounded nor as much of a value. A point to make here is that the hypervisor that allows you to run more guests on a single host is going to give you a better overall cost. This is certainly something to keep in mind.

Why VMware ESX beats Microsoft Hyper-V, hands-down
In the end, it is my opinion that VMware "wins the war" for several reasons. Perhaps most obvious, is that Microsoft is already incredibly behind VMware in terms of virtualisation know-how and may never catch up. In 2007 alone, VMware announced ESXi, Site Recovery and Update Manager in an effort improve ESX Server. As they will continue to improve their product year after year to provide more value, Microsoft is fighting an uphill battle.

In addition, VMware will continue to see a huge surge in revenue thanks to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). VDI, in my opinion, will be the next wave of virtualisation after server consolidation. Also, VMWare will be able to compete in the price war with Microsoft because of ESXi. The company has the option of giving it away for free, but even if they don't they're still offering it at $495 as opposed to Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V at $999.

Finally, and most importantly, ESXi can still win in efficiency. Compare the ESXi hypervisor at 32MB to the size of Hyper-V at about 2GB. Who will win at boot up? Who will win at security? Who will win when it comes to a lack of troubleshooting and solid reliability? My guess is that 32MB worth of code is going to be inherently faster, more secure and more reliable. In terms of reliability and uptime, it has been stated that ESX will run for 1000+ days without a reboot, whereas Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V will need to be rebooted every 30 days due to Windows Updates.

In the end, if you look at just a single license of VMware Infrastructure Suite Enterprise at $6950, and compare that to a single license of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise or Standard, the cost for the VMware solution will undoubtedly cost more. However, it still beats Microsoft's Hyper-V in terms of performance hands-down.

Another Microsoft takeover?

Microsoft has a history of overtaking companies that have huge leads in the market share. For example, Microsoft did this with Netscape and ended up putting the company virtually out of business. Microsoft is very good at doing this. They do it by replicating a successful product with a poor 1.0 version, marketing the product and giving it away for free. When version 2.0 is released, much of the hype comes true and the market share begins to move toward Microsoft.

Could this scenario repeat itself with a Microsoft vs. VMware debate? If Microsoft offers 90% of what most users need with a smaller (or free) price tag, could they use their existing avenues of distribution, education, and pure market share to become the king of the virtualisation market? Only time will tell…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Davis (CCIE #9369, VCP, CWNA, MCSE, CISSP, Linux+, CEH) has been in the IT industry for 15 years. He has written hundreds of articles, six video training courses – including the Train Signal VMware ESX Server video training series. His websites are and

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