Evaluating VMware alternatives for server virtualization software

Learn how VMware alternatives may help your customers meet their server virtualization software needs.

Solution provider takeaway: Learn about the VMware alternatives in the server virtualization software market and find out why your customers may want to choose a VMware alternative to meet their server virtualization software needs.

VMware is not the only game in town when it comes to server virtualization software, and now more than ever, resellers need to have alternatives available.

There are two main factors driving the need for VMware alternatives: the economy, first and foremost, and the movement of server virtualization into smaller and smaller data centers.

In this down economy, customers are looking for ways to trim costs, and server virtualization software fits that bill. But there are still challenges. The up-front costs of virtualization -- buying the software and storage hardware and paying for implementation services -- may eliminate much of the projected savings. And many of the selling points -- elimination of upcoming server purchases, power and cooling savings and simplified application deployments -- take a long time to show return on investment (ROI).

Use VMware alternatives to increase return on investment

If the server virtualization software itself is expensive, which has been the knock against VMware, then it just makes the ROI time frame even longer. Your customers know server virtualization will save them money and bring strong ROI, but the start-up costs can make them hesitant. So it's key for you to be able to offer lower-cost virtualization software.

About the author
George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

Part of the confusion around virtualization pricing is the free hypervisor, which both VMware and its competition offer. Think of the hypervisor as the engine in a car. Engines are important, but you can't ride on top of them.

Differences in hypervisor technology are important but subtle. Where VMware and its competition really differentiate themselves is in the management and operation of the hypervisor -- the parts of the car you wrap around the engine. These parts are what make a product enterprise-class, or more suitable for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), or ideal for a specific application. And they're the keys to your customers' purchasing decisions.

When your customers evaluate VMware on these criteria, they may find that it does not deliver the same performance and operational benefits as some of its competitors, or that its many components come with high costs and low integration. Luckily, alternatives to address these issues have in many cases been available for quite some time.

What is VMware's competition?

Virtual Iron Software Inc. has been shipping software since 2006. The Xen code, which Citrix Systems Inc. purchased in 2007, has been around even longer. Microsoft, of course, is the newest entrant into the market and has probably made the biggest splash with Hyper-V. And coming in from the Mac side is Parallels Server for Mac.

These competitors all understand that the way to get the attention of resellers and end users is with lower pricing. Their products are all more cost-effective VMware alternatives, especially when you factor in the optional components that VMware charges extra for, which are included for free in many competitors' products.

Parallels leads the way on pricing, followed surprisingly by Microsoft and then Virtual Iron and Citrix. But when it comes to features, no competitor can yet match VMware. Through internal development and acquisitions, VMware has built a complete suite of modules to enhance and extend an administrator's ability to effectively manage and extend the environment. In larger businesses, many of these tools are a must-have, but in a smaller data center, especially those with fewer than 20 servers, they are just "nice-to-haves."

As a reseller, you are looking to balance the reality of the customer's budget and the goals of the server virtualization project. Your value is in helping your customers evaluate these VMware alternatives and decide what makes the most sense for their businesses.

Evaluating VMware alternatives

Parallels Server for Mac is one of the easiest server virtualization solutions to implement and maintain, but it requires Mac-based hardware. If your customers are already using Mac-based servers, there is not a problem, but introducing these servers into non-Mac environments can be challenging. That said, the cost advantage and single-license simplicity of Parallels -- plus its delivery of live migration, physical to virtual (P2V) machine migration, snapshots and other core features -- may make it at least worth discussing in a non-Mac small business.

Microsoft is at the other end of the spectrum for now. Hyper-V offers a significant price advantage, but it lacks product features and capabilities. It does not offer network-based installs or dynamic CPU balancing, and it has limited operating system support. Hyper-V 2.0, which is now in beta, will add new features, most notably live migration.

For resellers with small and medium-sized enterprise customers, Virtual Iron may offer the right balance between price and capability. While slightly more expensive than the Microsoft offering, it offers a complete and robust feature set that includes automated network install, live migration, CPU load balancing and greater platform support than Microsoft, including support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

For larger data centers looking for VMware alternatives, Citrix XenServer 5 is a viable consideration. Based on the thousands of implementations of Xen, it has a solid foundation. A complete feature set and a solid virtualized server management tool are included in the price, which is not the case with VMware. And Citrix has a strong virtual desktop product that will compete with and compare well to VMware's solution -- an important consideration if you are working with a customer that plans to virtualize both servers and desktops.

Citrix also supports the same storage protocols as VMware, including Fibre Channel, Network File System and iSCSI. This protocol flexibility is not only important in large data centers, but it can also reduce storage expenses in smaller data centers.

A final alternative for small business customers is everRun VM by Marathon Technologies Corp. This product is particularly ideal for customers that only need a few physical hosts or even one physical host. You can even add it to Microsoft Hyper-V or Citrix XenServer to provide a complete high-availability (HA) software solution.

The challenge with smaller customers is that many times a server consolidation effort can actually consolidate down to one physical machine. Recommending that a customer put all their eggs in one basket is not a good idea; instead, using everRun and a second server can offer the safety of complete HA across all servers, amortizing the cost and making real-time recovery an affordable option for even the smallest of customers.

The above factors do not mean resellers should ditch their investments in and relationships with VMware, but you should have options available to meet your customers' specific needs. After all, you are a solutions provider. Listening to customers and solving their problems within their budget constraints is Job 1.


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