Microsoft ups the battle with VMware for the private cloud

The new Hyper-V and the new System Center could compete with ESX and vSphere on both capability and price

Many companies want to make their data centers into private clouds so they can get the advantages of faster, more flexible allocation of server, storage, and software resources. EMC VMware has long been the first stop for organizations looking for the virtualization component to help build that private cloud. But Microsoft wants to be the go-to provider, so it's amping up its Windows Server and System Center offerings this year to try to get that status.

Microsoft's Hyper-V -- especially the changes coming in Windows Server 8 -- may help Microsoft become that first stop as it steps up the features to be more competitive with VMware than ever before. Previously, Microsoft's biggest advantage was its price, which helped garner attention, but it didn't always serve enterprises' mission-critical needs. With Windows Server 8's Hyper-V, Microsoft will have a better functionality story to tell.

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But Microsoft's pricing weapon remains potent thanks to a per-processor licensing system. Microsoft claims that its licensing model makes Hyper-V cheaper to use, and the company has published many useage scenarios to demonstrate that. VMware's license is more complicated, involving the number of machines and the amount of virtual memory allocated -- and the customer outcry that followed this model's unveiling last summer did cause VMware to reduce the costs somewhat. Still, I have argued that VMware's licensing approach will encourage a move from ESX to Hyper-V, and my colleague Savio Rodrigues has argued that it will encourage the use of open source virtualization. We may differ on where enerprises may shift, but we agree it will be away from VMware, given this licensing model.

Not everyone has come to the same conclusion, of course, and several writers have shown scenarios where the costs are equivalent, and even where VMware's licensing is cheaper. For example, Scott Lowe at TechRepublic believes the costs are closer than the numbers Microsoft and others have published. His article links to a neat Excel spreadsheet that you can download and run your own numbers in. 

Today, VMware's vSphere suite does provide better tools for managing larger environments, and that can translate into needing fewer admins -- you're buying a higher-priced tool to gain greater labor savings. But I believe the equation will change dramatically this year, when Microsoft releases Hyper-V 3 (the equivalent to ESX) in Windows Server 8 and System Center 2012 (the equivalent to vSphere).

The System Center 2012 release candidate went live last week and boasts a nice lineup, including System Center 2012 Unified Installer, App Controller, Configuration Manager, Data Protection Manager, Endpoint Protection, Operations Manager, Orchestrator, Service Manager, and Virtual Machine Manager. The bottom line is that you'll see more vSphere-like capabilities in System Center 2012.

Microsoft is going to have to push hard to convince folks who are comfortable with VMware tools to switch, but it's obvious that the company is aggressively looking to do just that. My money's on Microsoft; I've seen time and again where it has eventually dominated a space it jumped into late: The enterprise server space, the video game console space, and soon the tablet space (you heard me, Apple) and the server side of the private cloud space. I work with Hyper-V and System Center tools, so I know how good they are. And I know that Microsoft isn't going to stop until it matches or exceeds the features of vSphere at a better price.

This article, "Microsoft ups the battle with VMware for the private cloud," was originally published at Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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