The bottom line
Finally, one of the most difficult factors to compare is cost. If you're looking at a small number of virtualized servers running Windows Server 2012, you already get that with the purchase of the operating system. Windows Server 2012 Standard comes with two virtual instances, while Windows Server 2012 Datacenter includes an unlimited number of VMs on a single machine. If you're already investing in Windows Server 2012, it may not make sense to purchase an additional virtualization product for a small-to-medium deployment.
That said, if you are starting small and planning to scale out your virtualization farm significantly over time, VMware could present a smoother growth path. The vCenter Server is easily deployed as a virtual appliance, and it serves as a single, central provider of every vSphere management capability -- host provisioning and configuration management, VM templating and cloning, health and performance monitoring, automated load balancing of VMs and storage, etc.
By contrast, the management capabilities of System Center 2012 span multiple tools and repositories. These start with Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) -- for managing Hyper-V hosts, clusters, and virtual machines -- and extend to Operations Manager (which integrates with VMM to automate load balancing and provide health and performance monitoring), Configuration Manager, Data Protection Manager, Orchestrator, and App Controller.
On one hand, the abundance of System Center components increases the management overhead and complexity, in comparison to vCenter Server. On the other hand, if the goal is to virtualize a primarily Windows-based infrastructure (and it usually is), then all of those System Center tools may be needed to manage your Windows servers and Microsoft applications anyway.
And this raises an important point made by IDC's Al Gillen, the industry research firm's analyst on operating systems, cloud, and virtualization: The VMware and Microsoft stacks are not mutually exclusive.
"Let's say you're a big VMware shop," Gillen says. "The reality is you probably still need System Center to manage your Windows servers. So it's not really an apples to apples comparison." At the same time, he notes, shops are much more likely to use multiple hypervisors today than they were in the past.
You can certainly go much further with Microsoft's free hypervisor than you can with VMware's. At the top of the value chain, VMware still has some capabilities that Microsoft can't match. In between, the choice between Microsoft and VMware has never been harder. And that's great news for the customers.
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This article, "Virtualization showdown: Microsoft Hyper-V 2012 vs. VMware vSphere 5.1," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization, data center, and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.
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