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With virtualization wars on, VARs face fresh choices

With Oracle, Red Hat as well as Microsoft taking on VMware's virtualization dominance, VARs have a lot of VM choices to offer customers.

VMware remains at the top of the virtualization heap, but VARs think competitors such as Oracle and Red Hat -- and especially Microsoft-- will gain ground. Don't hold your breath though-- it could take a while.

More on the virtualization wars:
Hyper-V vs. VMware: Which is cheaper?  

Evaluating VMware alternatives  

Microsoft amps up virtualization push.

Since Hyper-V launched in June 2008, Microsoft has made a concerted attempt to take on VMware, and it's been slow going by most accounts. Some VARs, however, expect the upcoming Hyper-V R2 -- available with Windows Server 2008 R2 and as a standalone SKU this fall -- will strengthen Microsoft's hand in the virtualization wars.

VMware devotees, on the other hand, still think Microsoft has a long way to go. "We do not think the demand is there yet [for Microsoft virtualization], nor is the technology mature enough," said one European VMware partner.

Oracle Corp. and Red Hat Inc. have also joined the fray. Oracle VM offers server virtualization software for virtual server pools running on x86-based systems and supports both Linux and Windows guests. Oracle builds on the Xen hypervisor.

Red Hat adopted KVM (after having problems with Xen) for its virtualization platform in June 2008. The company finally transitioned its Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization portfolio of products to beta last month. The new Red Hat platform will launch Sept. 1, 2009 -- conveniently during VMware's big VMworld 2009 conference.

Virtualization VARs scope out options
For virtualization VARs aligned with VMware or Citrix, this means it may be time to check out the competition. It could be years before other vendors are up to par, but VMware isn't the only choice anymore.

The main reason to choose a non-VMware route is cost -- many rival virtual machines are free. And, choice may be dictated by what software is already running in the customer's shop. While very few non-Oracle shops will be interested in Oracle VM, it may be a logical choice for those that have invested heavily in Oracle databases and applications. Oracle famously says it will not support VMware running with Oracle databases and applications, although in many cases it actually ends up doing so.

"When you choose the other vendors, you know that you're sacrificing something to save money," said Jeff Wilke, co-founder of Jelecos Systems Inc. and CEO/president of Data Media Solutions Inc., a solutions provider and VMware partner in Nebraska. Wilke said that while companies may prefer partnerships with other vendors, he chose VMware in the end because it has a proven product line.

Frank Basanta, director of technology for Systems Solutions, a New York City VAR, agrees: "I know if I go with VMware I have a great product and I will get the support I need."

Systems Solutions uses VMware internally but offers customers an array of solutions from VMware, Oracle and Red Hat. It is a gamble for partners to choose vendors other than VMware, especially in the present market, but some simply cannot afford the price. "It's all budget," said Basanta. "We need to look at the customers first. Partners can only present clients with the products they can afford."

"I think VMware will continue to control the mantle well into the foreseeable future," Wilke said. But he also sees potential for Oracle to gain share because it has the financial backing to do so.

VMware faces partner problems
Wilke said that partner relations could mean trouble for VMware. This is a company that people love to hate, he said. Wilke has heard grumbling among partners about VMware's dedication to partner needs. One partner said the downside of being the king of the mountain is that it comes with a king of the mountain attitude.

A Midwestern VMware partner said VMware tried to ally with companies in competition with VMware's own partners. VMware has also recently moved into the cloud computing arena, creating direct competition with partners that host and sell their own cloud products.

"VMware puts its partners into a corner," said this partner. "If VMware could get rid of every partner except for just one, they would do it. They don't do anything to try to earn our business." Frustrated partners such as this one no longer attend VMware's trade show, citing the expense.

Others contend that VMware gets a bum rap. "VMware treats us extremely well and we are very supportive of their partner team and programs. I think they listen and rapidly adapt when they need to," said another European partner.

Wilke said VMware could face eroding partner loyalty if it continues to expect partners to pay for what should be free trade shows. But Basanta said this is just the cost of doing business with big vendors. "Nobody plays fair, especially in this marketplace," he said.

The solution is for partners to offer solutions from many vendors, so they won't get caught in an entangling alliance with a single vendor.

Recent reports suggest that VMware wants to eliminate competition between its products and other vendors' solutions during VMworld 2009 . The company downsized the booths of Citrix and Microsoft, saying exhibitor solutions must "complement" VMware products.

For now, VMware still takes the cake. Its product offers the best functionality and performance, said Scott Jenkins, CEO and managing director of The EBS Group, an Oracle partner in Kansas. But he said Red Hat Enterprise Linux could provide Red Hat a virtualization lead in the future.

Oracle partners often choose Oracle VM because it is certified to work in an Oracle environment, while VMware certifications for Oracle platforms are lacking, Jenkins said.
VMware partners stick with VMware for the same reasons. "Oracle customers have had problems getting Oracle products to work on VMware environments," Jenkins said.

Wilke agrees, saying resellers tend to feel stuck with VMware once they have chosen the king.

Other resellers think VMware may only see competition from Microsoft. "VMware has a great product/vision, momentum and current market dominance, whereas Microsoft has the determination, vision and track record to gain market share in an area they are committed to win," said Simon Hansford, vice president of products and marketing for Attenda Limited, VMware's 2009 EMEA Hosting Partner of the Year, based in England.

Oracle and Red Hat will slowly gain traction, but these VMware competitors will need to amp up their product performance and virtualization experience first, VARs said.

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