Is Microsoft's hybrid cloud a better choice compared to VMware?

Windows Server 2012 R2, the next iteration of Microsoft's server operating system offers a hybrid cloud. Should organisations upgrade?

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Windows Server 2012 R2, the next iteration of Microsoft's server operating system is now available, but should organisations upgrade?

The company has positioned the new OS as a way for enterprises to run private and public clouds.

With Windows Server 2013 R2, Microsoft is aiming to make it easy for IT departments to deploy applications on-premise, within a private cloud or on the company's Azure cloud.

It represents a major step forward for the software giant, which is competing with VMware in the private cloud and Azure for public cloud deployments.

Windows Server 2012 R2 uses the same version of its hypervisor software, Hyper-V, as Windows Azure, which could enable Microsoft to provide a high level of consistency between in-house Windows servers and cloud-based deployments on Azure.

In a blog post describing the company's hybrid cloud strategy, Satya Nadella, executive vice president of Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft, wrote: “We are also delivering hybrid solutions that help enterprises build their own clouds with consistency, enable them to move without friction across clouds, and let them use the public cloud in conjunction with their own clouds.”

The OS also provides support for software-defined networking and SSD-optimised storage virtualisation.

More articles on Windows Server 2012 R2

In Server 2012 R2, Microsoft has added a feature called the Inbox HNV Gateway, which handles site-to-site VPN, NAT (Network Address Translation) and forwarding. The new gateway integrates with System Center Virtual Machine Manager for easier management.

In terms of storage virtualisation, Microsoft has introduced storage tiers, which let IT managers mix fast SSD (Solid-State Drives)  with conventional drives. Virtual disks can then have two tiers of storage, with data moved between SSD and hard disk drives according to its usage.

Storage boost

In a blog post covering the update to Windows Server, Gartner analyst Gunnar Berger wrote that the changes Microsoft has made to storage could lower the cost of desktop virtualisation. "So better storage is a major feature of Server 2012 R2 and its very welcome as far as I’m concerned. The cost of storage needs to drop and I’ve been very public in my desire to see these costs drop drastically. In my mission of having storage cost less than $100 per user for VDI workloads these changes in Server 2012 R2 are helping pave the way for organisations to see this as a reality.”

For IT directors, the choice will be either to trust Microsoft to bridge the gap between their physical data centres, private clouds and public clouds, or expand their VMware private cloud with VMware's own hybrid cloud service. At VMworld Europe VMware announced a beta programme for its own hybrid vSphere cloud.

Hypervisor choices

In his keynote presentation at VMworld Europe 2013, CEO Pat Gelsinger said: "The hybrid cloud is an extension of the enterprise datacentre and is an extension of customers' existing infrastructure, with a common view of the network. We have 100 customers in the early access programme.”

Experts may say that VMware's management tools are superior, but Microsoft has the edge

He claimed VMware's unique selling point would offering private and hybrid clouds based on the same infrastructure.

Microsoft may not be the VM market leader, but its approach to cloud computing means IT departments can take their existing Windows server infrastructure and migrate, where appropriate, servers into a private cloud or Azure public cloud.

Since many organisations have standardised on VMware for server virtualisation, the choice of whether to stick with vSphere or deploy Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor on Windows Server 2012 R2 will come down to operations' cost and software licensing.

In 2012, a Microsoft-commissioned report conducted by Forrester found that 75% of surveyed customers reported a reduction in IT infrastructure spending by deploying Windows Server 2012. The study also found that more than half saw improved storage efficiency and also in server-administrator productivity. Data on Windows Server 2012 R2 is not yet available, but the Forrester data does show admins can make big operational savings by modernising their Windows Server software.

Arguably the biggest saving for IT departments is the initial hit they will take in purchasing vSphere and then on-going software maintenance. Hyper-V is free and the Windows Server 2012 R2 is a free update to Windows Server 2012.

While it is impossible to do a like-for-like comparison, in a SolarWinds presentation, Scott Lowe, managing consultant 1610 group, and Lawrence Garvin, SolarWinds technical product marketing manager, claimed Microsoft’s virtualisation could be significantly cheaper. The pair illustrated that running 150 virtual machines using 10 two-processor hosts would cost $84,000 on Windows Server Datacenter Edition compared to $208,000 on vSphere Enterprise Plus, based on figures from Microsoft. A Principled Technologies test report for VMware in 2012 claimed that operational costs of vSphere were 91% less than Hyper-V.

Experts may point out that VMware's management tools are superior and that the hypervisor is technically a better product, but Microsoft has the edge. And the integration with Azure means IT departments now have a choice on how best to deploy Windows server software, whether it is on-premise on physical hardware, via a private cloud or in the Azure public cloud.

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