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Comparing Hyper-V R2, vSphere and XenServer 5.5 pros and cons

Comparing the pros and cons of Hyper-V R2, vSphere and XenServer 5.5 will not only help you recommend the right product, it'll also help you to optimize their virtual environments.

When comparing Hyper-V R2, vSphere and XenServer 5.5 pros and cons, customers are often confused about which option...

is best. Solutions providers will find that their customers' ignorance serves as a valuable opportunity to seal new business deals. The virtualization market is very competitive, and knowing about the big players in this segment will give you a key advantage over other solutions providers. In this tip, you'll learn about the various features included in Microsoft's Hyper-V R2, VMware Inc.'s vSphere and Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer 5.5, and how each product can impact a customer's virtual environment.

More resources on comparing Hyper-V R2, vSphere and XenServer 5.5:

Three setbacks when designing Hyper-V R2 high availability

Microsoft Hyper-V R2 features and comparison guide

Maximizing VMware vSphere 4 performance

FAQ: Comparing vSphere features and editions

Citrix XenServer 5.5 hardware requirements

Managing XenServer 5.5 resources with XenCenter 5.5

VMware vSphere pros

  • Broadest vendor support: When it comes to virtualizing applications, customers need to choose an option that will be supported by the largest number of software programs and systems. VMware's market-leading position gives customers the most options when it comes to building virtualized environments that will have the most support.
  • Most features: The vSphere series of products, in particular vCenter Server, allow solutions providers to design highly-available infrastructures with advanced management features. ESX, ESXi, vCenter Server and other VMware products apply not only to enterprises, but to smaller organizations as well that need high-performance and enterprise-class features for virtualization components.

VMware vSphere cons

  • High entry costs: Along with a wide array of features, vSphere also comes with a high price tag for initial purchases. Simply comparing per-processor costs of core virtualization components, vSphere is more expensive at face value than its competitors' products. All virtualization providers contentiously argue the price and return on investment (ROI) factors of virtualization. Be sure to check out the VMware Cost-Per-Application calculator, Microsoft virtualization cost comparison calculator and the Citrix ROI demonstration tool.
  • Hardware incompatibility: While the vSphere Compatibility Matrix continues to expand, other virtualization offerings have broader hardware support. Microsoft virtualization has the broadest supported device inventory.

Microsoft Hyper-V R2 pros

  • Familiar interface: Some customers prefer using products from just one vendor, and Hyper-V virtualization is a more natural transition from Windows server environments. The virtualization management engine with System Center adds features for customers in a simple tiered approach, from the application to the OS, and lastly, to the virtualization engine. For organizations that have a large investment in other System Center technologies, such as Operations Manager, System Center Virtual Machine Manager for Hyper-V may be a natural addition.
  • Broad hardware compatibility: Being part of Windows Server 2008 R2,Hyper-V R2 benefits by having the same driver support. While VMware is expanding its product line and has also added the new pluggable storage architecture, Windows device support can't be beat.
  • Integration with existing virtualization infrastructure: Customers want to capitalize on existing investments. Most environments have some level of Microsoft Windows Server investment, and expanding that investment to include Hyper-V may be attractive.

Microsoft Hyper-V R2 cons

  • Less vendor support: For software publishers that do have virtualization support, Hyper-V R2 is not frequently listed as one of the products they support. While virtualization support is determined by a number of factors, Hyper-V isn't the most supported hypervisor for third-party applications.
  • Features gap: Hyper-V virtualization goes deeper with some features, such as alert management and monitoring within the guest virtual machine's OS with System Center Operations Manager and integration with Group Policy. VSphere has more virtualization-specific features that are more important to infrastructure architects. Hyper-V does not yet offer a fault tolerance virtual machine (VM) that runs concurrently on two hosts, and it has fewer virtualization-specific disaster recovery options than vSphere.

Citrix XenServer 5.5 pros

  • Strongest free virtualization offering: Citrix XenServer 5.5 offers the best free virtualization suite, which includes live migration, physical server to virtual machine (P2V) conversions and virtual-to-virtual (V2V) conversions, shared storage driver integration, centralized management, Active Directory integrated security, VM template functionality and infrastructure update management. Citrix Essentials has additional features for customers and is a modestly priced automation and management package.
  • Enterprise ready: Citrix XenServer (along with VMware's vSphere) meets the Burton Group's criteria for enterprise production virtualization workloads. The Xen hypervisor also has an active open source community for organizations that wish to produce their own virtualization solutions.

Citrix XenServer 5.5 cons

  • Most limited application and vendor support: While VMware has broad virtualization support in the application world, customers may face vendor support issues when moving critical systems to a Xen-based virtualization environment.
  • Limited partner support: The Citrix offering has the most limited software partner product support of the three platforms. VMware-based virtualization has the largest level of partner support for products in areas such as backup and recovery, capacity planning, lifecycle management and infrastructure.

Are pros and cons enough?

When comparing Hyper-V R2, vSphere and XenServer 5.5 pros and cons, you'll find that there is no one-size-fits-all virtualization product or service. Each product can present customers with many advantages and disadvantages depending on their current environment and needs. From the customers' perspective, virtualization must be an investment that fits with their overall IT goals and architecture. The aggregation of infrastructure components that virtualization brings to the table requires customers to choose wisely about which investments to make.

About the author: 
Rick Vanover (VCP, MCITP, MCTS, MCSA) is an IT infrastructure manager for Alliance Data in Columbus, Ohio. Vanover is an IT veteran specializing in virtualization, server hardware, operating system support and technology management. Follow Rick on Twitter for virtualization insights.

This was last published in January 2010

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