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Hyper-V vs. VMware: VARs guide customer choice

With Microsoft Hyper-V R2 gaining credibility, VMware still leads but is no longer the no-brainer server virtualization option.

Hyper-V versus VMware. Which is the right server virtualization option?

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Why recommend Hyper-V vs. VMware?  

That question is more than academic to VARs with virtualization skills. Businesses of all sizes are asking it and their curiosity gives these VARs an opportunity to discuss IT needs with a lot of potential customers -- many of which might be considering a VMware upgrade. That conversation, in turn, often leads to profitable engagements for the VARs that touch on hardware, software and services implementations.

While VMware Inc. remains the kingpin of server virtualization, Microsoft's new Hyper-V- R2, is giving it a run for its money in SMB accounts and even some large enterprises, according to several VARs in the trenches.

VMware superiority: Fact or fiction?

The perception is that VMware remains the more fully featured and robust server virtualization choice in general, but VARs caution that, in real life situations, Hyper-V meets many organizations' needs just fine, especially if those organizations are running Microsoft management solutions already.

"Hyper-V versus VMware? We get that question quite a bit," said Andrew Hillier, CTO of Toronto-based Cirba Inc. Of course Cirba would get the question since it sells tools to help businesses assess which virtualization solution is best for their specific needs. As such, Cirba, unlike many VARs, is firmly in both vendor camps.

"We still see huge polarization in large environments versus SMBs," Hillier said. "In enterprises, VMware still has more features and is a more complete solution. Vmotion and the ability to move things around is valuable as [are] more advanced memory-efficient technologies like page sharing."

But, Hillier said, VMware's advantage may have be more perceived than actual, depending on the customer's needs. Hyper-V now has Live Migration, to compete with VMotion.

In his view, Hyper-V still lacks some of the memory efficiencies that VMware offers. But, for many shops, what Hyper-V offers may be good enough, especially if they've already sprung for Windows Server 2008 R2, which includes Hyper-V at no additional charge.

Paul Russell, head of strategic development for Servo, a London-based IT consultancy, said there are cases when VMware will be the better choice even for smaller companies and Hyper-V is best for huge enterprises that have deployed the full Microsoft stack. It all depends on what the customer already has deployed and what it wants to accomplish.

"Very generally, if the customer has a really good view of what they want to see at the end of a project and can clearly articulate that, Microsoft has the best opportunity because its management wraps around its virtualization where VMware has separate [management] stacks," Russell said.

Generally the Hyper-V conversation starts out about price since Microsoft bundles its hypervisor with the Windows Server OS whereas VMware is an additional cost atop Windows. Still, even that is not an easy comparison because not all Windows shops have deployed Microsoft Systems Center for management. The cost of all those Microsoft licenses is not exactly cheap and if that overall cost is factored in, the comparison gets different.

For customers with a hard-core requirement for fault tolerance and high availability, VMware is often the way to go, Russell said. But sometimes, high availability is not always easily defined, Russell noted.

"If you pay maintenance on your software licenses, you might as well use Hyper-V since you already have it," he noted.

For shops running mixed environments, many think VMware is the go-to option since Hyper-V is still seen as windows-centric. That's true although Microsoft supports SUSE and Red Hat Linux guest OSes.

Hillier said this is one area where VARs have to stay on top of the news. "If you look at all the hypervisors, they have varying degrees of support for different OSes in terms of how many CPUs you can give an OS. With VMware you can give Unix eight [CPUs] and with Hyper-V maybe one. But that number changes all the time and needs to be looked at if the customer runs older OSes."

And, for existing VMware shops, it may be a no-brainer to keep going down that path.

"There will always be cases where if a customer already has investment in VMware, deploying [more VMware] might be less expensive [than Hyper-V]," said Jim Vanden Boom, a virtualization solutions manager at CDW LLC.

But, again, said Vanden Boom, "since Hyper-V is included in the base Microsoft Server OS, if you're going to have to buy a new server OS anyway, Hyper-V could make more sense."

Microsoft tries to point VARs to profitability with Hyper-V

Microsoft has to persuade customers that Hyper-V is more cost efficient while also wooing virtualization-savvy VARs. And VARs need to make money, even if it is deploying free software. Toward that end, Microsoft this week unveiled a new "profitability tool" that will let VARs enter their project parameters into an Excel spreadsheet to determine how lucrative a given virtualization deal will be.

Servo, for example, might offer a VMware or a Hyper-V option. "We punch the numbers into the tool and using our information about how we'd sell our products to customers and how we charge for hardware and licensing, it will show that Hyper-V will be more profitable or, because of the parameters, VMware will be more profitable for us. We enter the number of servicers, how much you can consolidate, how much hardware is needed. And depending on the configuration, you may need more hardware if it's Microsoft or VMware and that raises the deal size." Russell said.

The VAR also enters in its own margin requirements to figure out ultimate price and margin.

CDW's Vanden Boom said customers are demanding options. "They want multiple solutions -- what is the best solution for me rather than, in the past, they'd say give me a VMware solution. Now they say we want to know about all the viable solutions and what those look like to me and my business."

Kathi Grumke, VandenBoom's colleague and another solution specialist at CDW, concurred. "Customers are looking for agnostic analysis so they can make a decision of what makes sense so whatever tools we can deploy help us have that conversation with the customer," she said. "They may have invested in VMware already. Maybe it's coming up for renewal. Should they go for that or look at Hyper-V? The toolset gives us the opportunity to have that trusted adviser conversation."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director at, or follow us on twitter.

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