Your hypervisor still matters -- so choose wisely

Although sometimes considered a nonfactor in virtualization decisions, the hypervisor dictates other options

In the early days of virtualization, the hypervisor was king. We all knew that VMware had the better hypervisor, and until Microsoft produced a competitive option, VMware was the only choice. In present-day virtualization discussions, though, the hypervisor doesn't play as large a role. In fact, many have dismissed the hypervisor as a commodity. As with electricity, you can purchase it from any vendor. Which hypervisor just doesn't matter.

Others disagree, arguing that dismissing the hypervisor is misleading to buyers and decision makers. To clarify that opposing position I spoke with David Davis, a VMware vExpert with Pluralsight (formerly TrainSignal). Davis will be speaking about hypervisors and more at this month's VMworld conference. He disagrees with the suggestion that the choice of hypervisor is irrelevant. "The hypervisor dictates the management utilities you have available and the advanced feature set available," he says.

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Davis feels the reason other so-called experts make the case that the hypervisor is irrelevant is because maximum configurations have grown so large that hypervisor differences have become obscured. When running Hyper-V or vSphere on a massive system with eight CPUs and 2TB of RAM, you're not going to see any major performance differences between the hypervisors themselves, so the battle has now switched to the management suites. "It's like comparing a Ferrari and Lamborghini," Davis says. "One may be able to go 225 miles per hour and the other 250, but in the end it's not going to matter because you'll never drive them that fast anyway."

Going a bit further, Davis points out that your hypervisor choice "also dictates the ecosystem." In other words, when you choose a solution, be it Hyper-V or VMware (or any other), you need to consider the amount of training available, the number of knowledge base articles, and the accumulation of experts, third-party vendors, consultants, and websites in the ecosystem.

That's a point I hadn't registered thus far. Your choice of hypervisor certainly should be considered from a financial perspective (with Hyper-V coming up as the more cost-effective solution most of the time). However, you may be paying for the ecosystem built up around the hypervisor. According to Davis, "Hyper-V is quickly advancing in this regard."

"As for feature set and management suite," Davis adds, "Microsoft is putting a great deal of effort into improving what they have control over. And the ecosystem surrounding it is growing every day with additional third-party tool providers assisting the growth. But it will take some time to match VMware's lead in the virtualization industry," he says.

In other words, Microsoft is doing a solid job where it has the power to do so. It is fostering growth in the Hyper-V ecosystem, but there is still more the company can do in order to compete toe-to-toe with VMware. It's just a matter of time before we see little or no gap, but today we still see that gap.

Personally, I've noticed a lot of shops transitioning from VMware to Hyper-V, but at conferences I still find a solid VMware base for virtualization. While the hypervisors may be "equal" for the most part, I agree with Davis that the choice you make dictates all the other aspects of your virtualized environment. It certainly has a domino effect.

Rather than saying "See, it's all the same now" and dismissing the hypervisor as a commodity, it's better to step back and view the whole picture, including financial and ecosystem, to make the best choice for your environment.

This story, "Your hypervisor still matters -- so choose wisely," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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