Pat Ouellette: When comparing vSphere vs. Hyper-V vs. XenServer, what should solutions providers know?
Eric Siebert: It initially comes down to what your customers have in their environment already. VSphere is all about features, but if you're a big Microsoft shop and that's everything you run, it might make sense to use Hyper-V, because all your expertise is already in Microsoft products, and it's a better fit.
But if you're looking for things like advanced features, Microsoft is lacking in a lot of areas like fault tolerance and Distributed Power Management. You do have to pay for vSphere's advanced features, which is why Microsoft often says that vSphere costs too much. But the reason it costs so much is that you're getting a lot more for your money.
I would say when comparing vSphere vs. Hyper-V vs. XenServer, look at your requirements. If you don't need advanced features, it might make more sense to go with Hyper-V. Both vSphere and Hyper-V have free editions, so if you need a basic virtualization product, you can get that in either version. There is a free edition of vSphere's ESXi. It doesn't have a lot of the advanced features that you get in the paid editions, but it's still a great platform for virtualization if you just need something simple.
Microsoft Hyper-V is still playing catch-up in a lot of areas, and one big area where they're lacking is third-party management, applications and utilities. VMware has a very robust infrastructure. There are tons of vendors out there with applications for any type of need you have in vSphere. Microsoft has tried releasing some of its own utilities, but their third-party vendors are still playing catch-up.
XenServer is still an immature product. Because it's Linux-based and Microsoft is so predominant, you don't see it deployed as much as Hyper-V and vSphere. Shops that use Citrix products, or Citrix's desktop virtualization product, might look at XenServer to stay with the same vendor. Citrix does run just fine on the other hypervisors as well.
With XenServer, the management and administration is more difficult than Hyper-V or vSphere. It is a fairly stable product, but it's lacking a lot of the features that vSphere has. It's been around for a while, but [Citrix] hasn't been adding a lot of the features to it that vSphere and Hyper-V have.
VSphere and Hyper-V are growing at a very rapid pace right now while XenServer is standing still for the most part. The two dominant hypervisors are going to be between VMware and Microsoft, and at this point, it may not make sense for someone to use a hypervisor that isn't as popular and doesn't have the amount of support and applications that the other hypervisors have.
About the expert
Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran whose primary focus is VMware virtualization and Windows server administration. He is one of the 300 vExperts named by VMware Inc. for 2009. He is the author of the book VI3 Implementation and Administration and a frequent TechTarget contributor. In addition, he maintains vSphere-land.com, a VMware information site.
This was first published in May 2010