Virtualization shoot-out: Citrix, Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware

The leading server virtualization contenders tackle InfoWorld's ultimate virtualization challenge

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Virtualization platform licensing
The licensing structures of VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V are definitely more complex than those of either Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization or Citrix XenServer. VMware offers several levels of vSphere, each with more features than the last, and all priced per physical socket. Microsoft offers Hyper-V as part of Windows Server 2008 R2, with an Enterprise license allowing for four virtual servers running the same OS on a physical server, and a Datacenter license allowing for unlimited virtual machines per physical server.

Interestingly, many shops are buying Microsoft's Datacenter licenses and assigning them to physical servers running VMware vSphere. Those licenses allow for unlimited Windows Server 2008 R2 VMs on that host, even if it's not running Hyper-V.

Citrix XenServer is priced per server, regardless of server capacity. Like VMware, Citrix offers a choice of several tiers. Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization is the simplest (and cheapest), with flat per-year subscription pricing per physical server based on 9-to-5 or 24/7 support starting at $499 per server per year.

Pricing server virtualization

Citrix XenServer$1,000 for Advanced, $2,500 for Enterprise, $5,000 for Platinum; per server pricing, no CPU restrictions.
Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-VWindows Server 2008 R2 Standard starts at $1,029 per server. Datacenter edition starts at $2,999 per CPU. The System Center Server Management Suite Datacenter (SMSD) costs $1,315 per CPU.
Red Hat Enterprise VirtualizationStandard (business hour support): $499 per socket per year. Premium (24x7 support): $749 per socket per year. 
VMware vSphere$995 for vSphere Standard (one CPU), $3,495 for Enterprise Plus (one CPU). Support not included.

Virtualization now, more than ever
The major excuse for delaying a virtualization project in the past was the price of VMware balanced against the lack of significant features such as live migrations, high availability, load balancing, and even guest OS support in competing products. That is no longer valid, as each solution capably demonstrated these features. Larger infrastructures may still view virtualization as VMware and VMware only, but the smaller and midrange shops that can live without VMware's advanced features suddenly have a plethora of options. They can still bring the extreme benefits of virtualization into the data center and not bust the budget.

Among the three challengers, Microsoft Hyper-V comes closest to VMware vSphere in overall management functionality. However, whereas VMware, Red Hat, and Citrix combine virtualization host and VM management in a single management server, Microsoft spreads the functions across multiple System Center tools. Hyper-V's advanced capabilities come at the cost of additional overhead, configuration, and complexity for administrators.

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