What VMware will do next: Evaluating VMotion and HA

A comparison between VMware and Microsoft offerings.

Eric Siebert has written an interesting post on ITKnowledgeExchange.com about VMotion and HA. Basically, Eric’s premise is that VMware should -- or will likely -- release VMotion and HA for free – because, well Microsoft has. Out of the two products, Eric rates HA over VMotion as a feature. 

I can see Eric’s point of view. And there is a precedent in the past – as MS tries to compete on price – VMware comes back with the one-two punch of making a feature for free. Clearly, by MS “giving away” these features for free – its intention is to “put pressure” on VMware. As you can see the MS position is trying (yet again) to create the (largely false) impression that VMware represents some kind of premium thoroughbred product which is “expensive”, and that the MS product is more cost-effective.

Clearly, I would love VMware to become a charity and give all its products away for free. But I think that we can all agree that both VMware and its competitors must make something from their massive software development investment. In my experience when something becomes free or bundled, pretty quickly the ISVs lose interest in developing it and improving it. There has to be some pay back from them. In fairness most customers totally understand this – they work for commercial business too – the thorn issue has never been that vendors charge, but how much they charge.

Overall I find this feature-by-feature, cost-by-cost view of the world somewhat narrow. Like somehow the whole of the VMware, Citrix or Microsoft offerings can be reduced and boiled down to a couple of features like VMotion and HA. The offerings from the respective vendors must be weighed up and considered as whole, as often the sum is greater than their collective parts. Go down the Microsoft route – you will miss out on host profiles, distributed vswitches, FT, host profiles, DRS and DPM…

I see VMware and Microsoft's offerings being quite different – and therefore hard to compare. Both offer hypervisors (ESX is best) and management tools (vCenter is best). But where VMware is weak, and MS strong – is the way their management tools hook into Windows running inside the VM. VMware is great, but they really don’t tell much about what is going on inside the guest operating system which in the main is Windows. The other thing that skews fair comparison assumes that the LiveMigrate of HyperV (which still hasn’t been released as GA code by the way) is an unknown quantity, and the same goes for Microsoft HA. 

Anyway, the demand to make VMotion and HA free is a big ask. It would mean making vCenter for free, perhaps as free-to-download Linux virtual appliance. Heck, we already have this for vi3.5 as part of a technology preview beta. Personally, I would prefer VMware to let vCenter go out for free – after all those folks who use the free ESXi product really don’t get any management tools. I feel fine with VMware charging for VMotion and HA. 

Many people dismiss VMotion as some kind of nice-to-have toy. For me this is a bit narrow. If you have had to do BIOS updates or patch management of hypervisor the ability to non-intrusively carry these tasks out is critical if you want to avoid a maintenance window. Additionally, a solid and reliable VMotion process is mandatory for any higher level management tasks such as DPM, DRS, VUM and so on. So for me it’s as critical a feature as HA.

This was first published in May 2009

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