By: Gigaom
Virtualization wars heat up (again)
With Microsoft Hyper-V 3 coming down the pike, and Red Hat revving its KVM push, VMware executives continue to tout vSphere as the best way to virtualize everything -- including the mission-critical databases and ERP systems that power businesses of all sizes.

Watch for the virtualization wars to flare anew. As Microsoft preps Hyper-V 3 to ship with Windows 8 Server (and client) operating systems later this year, and Red Hat beats the drum for its Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) 3.0,, VMware is sticking to its guns, asserting that vSphere remains the best way to virtualize whatever you’ve got. In particular, it claims that it offers the best way to virtualize the  crown jewels of an enterprise data center —  databases and mission-critical applications.

Virtualization, which enables businesses to pack more workloads on shared hardware, is a key underpinning of the modern data center and of cloud computing, and market leader VMware blazed the trail, virtualizing boatloads of servers and associated infrastructure including domain controllers,  file and print services and directory services. Now it’s turning its sights on the database.

Battleground: Database virtualization

A few years back, the reason companies hesitated to virtualize databases was that hypervisor can impact performance, acknowledged Parag Patel, VP of global strategic alliances for VMware. Five or six years ago that hit was big enough to hurt, but the work VMware did to optimize its hypervisor along with the advent of newer, faster chips and network interconnections neutralized the performance hit, he said.

Since then the primary hindrance to database virtualization has been more about the licensing and support policies of database vendors, not the virtualization technology itself, he said.

VMware's Parag Patel

Most notably, Oracle, the database market leader, wants its database and applications customers to run Oracle VM virtualization. So it told customers needing Oracle support on an issue involving an Oracle database running on VMware (or any non-Oracle VM virtualization), they had to prove that the problem was related to Oracle and not the  virtualization provider. Replicating such problems can prove onerous. Oracle VM, unlike vSphere, is free, but Patel maintained that with virtualization, as with most things, people get what they pay for.

“Oracle wants everyone on the Oracle stack but [Oracle VM is] not as richly featured as VMware and in production with mission-critical data centers … people want something truly reliable and trusted,” he said.

But Patel said VMware now has “statements from over 3,500 software vendors including Oracle that we are supported,” Patel said.

Expect the war of words to escalate

The back and forth over which virtualization is better will only amp up in coming months with Microsoft boosters claiming big improvements in Hyper-V 3 (including the ability to move live VMs across a wide-area network) and Red Hat doing the same for the speed improvements in RHEV 3.  

While VMware started out as the operating system-agnostic choice, both Microsoft and Red Hat have pretty much erased that advantage with cross-platform support for Windows and Linux. Still, many still see Hyper-V as a viable option mostly in Windows-centric shops and RHEV for Red Hat Linux establishments. (Those who doubt that the “which virtualization is best” argument can take on religious fervor should check out the comments on this ZDNet Hyper-v or VMware debate.)

Bernd Harzog, analyst with The Virtualization Practice, said VMware has to move up the stack for two reasons that have more to do with its own legacy than any oncoming competition. “If you assume VMware has high share in the enterprise — which it does — and it has virtualized all the low hanging fruit — which it has, what’s left? It’s all the databases and ERP systems.  So the fight is now about all this important stuff.”

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr indi.ca

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