Five major virtualization news stories in 2009 and how they will affect 2010

2009 was a wild ride for the virtualization market. Companies like VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, Oracle, and Red Hat made things extremely interesting. Where do they go in 2010?

2010 could prove to be a huge year for the virtualization market, but 2009 was certainly considered no slouch. 2009 gave us a lot to think about and talk about throughout the entire year. And some of the top 5 virtualization moments in 2009 that could be considered game-changing events for how things go in 2010 include the following:

5.  Is VMworld a virtualization industry event? Or is it a VMware technology event?

VMworld opened its trade show doors in San Diego back in 2004 to the tune of nearly 1,000 attendees and 30 exhibitors. At that time, virtualization was still a mystery wrapped up in an enigma, and folks were just starting to kick the tires on the technology. As virtualization technology matured, its install base grew in numbers, as did the VMworld attendee and exhibitor list, reaching almost 15,000 people and more than 200 exhibitors during 2008.

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In the early years, VMware's then CEO, Diane Greene, seemed to showcase the annual event as the world's premiere virtualization industry event, welcoming all vendors and technologies to participate, sponsor, and show off their wares. Unfortunately for VMware, virtualization competition really heated up in 2008, as did the marketing FUD surrounding it.

Seemingly because of that, VMware made a corporate decision in 2009 that shook things up in the media and caused quite a stir in the virtualization world. News broke that VMworld legalese changes were made to the exhibitor/sponsorship agreement documentation that seemed to target VMware's competition. In a nutshell, the documentation changes said that competitors to VMware would still be allowed to exhibit at VMworld, but they would be restricted to a 10-by-10 booth, and they could no longer showcase competitive products.

The decision seemed to be aimed at Citrix and Microsoft, but it didn't stop either company from participating at VMworld 2009.  Microsoft created an "ask the experts" panel at its booth, and provided Twitter chat sessions throughout the show.  Citrix took a different approach, making a bit more hay out of the situation by poking fun at the restrictions with T-shirts that read, "You can't lock Xen in a 10x10."  Citrix also took the opportunity to blanket the San Francisco area around the Moscone Center with Citrix XenServer and XenDesktop virtualization marketing material on cabs, buses, and bus stop signs.

In spite of the changes made and the challenges faced during VMworld 2009, the show seemed to be a big success for VMware, and I doubt many of the more than 10,000 attendees paused for more than a few minutes if at all because of the changes made. The news may have caused a major stir within the media and the blogosphere, but by the time the show actually started, much of it had died down. It seems more than likely that VMworld 2010 will have the same restrictions placed on Microsoft and Citrix should they choose to sponsor and exhibit again that year.

The question remains, was this an experiment that worked? Or did it go awry? And what will VMworld 2010 look like on the exhibitor front as far as competitors go? Or can a vendor-neutral, virtualization industry event take over where VMworld left off?

4.  Oracle moves deeper into virtualization with acquisitions

Despite being a major software company, Oracle has been trying very hard to become a relevant player in the server virtualization market, but that prize has eluded the company for years. The company created its own server virtualization platform based on the open source Xen technology, but perhaps other than to a few of Oracle's existing software consumers, it didn't seem to make much of an impression on the market.

Not to be denied, Oracle made a fairly big play by acquiring Virtual Iron back in May 2009. But the big news of 2009 wasn't the actual acquisition of Virtual Iron -- that news was practically buried by the fact that Oracle ultimately killed off the Virtual Iron product line and terminated its Virtual Iron reseller agreements. Around the same time, Oracle was also in a bid to acquire Sun Microsystems and, along with it, Sun's virtualization portfolio. Still waiting for this deal to come to fruition, the question remains as to what Oracle plans to do with these technologies in 2010, and how it plans to use them to become a relevant player in the virtualization market.

To give us a hint as to what's on tap for 2010 , Oracle did make a few updates in 2009. In July, the company released a set of paravirtualized drivers to improve network and disk I/O for Windows guest operating systems running on Oracle VM. The company also announced Oracle VM 2.2 during its annual trade show event, Oracle OpenWorld 2009. Oracle VM 2.2 was the first step toward merging the Virtual Iron management tools and feature sets into Oracle's base virtualization platform. And the company said it expected to deliver Oracle VM 3.0 sometime in the first half of this year.

Will Oracle's virtualization plans be enough to catch up or compete with Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware?

3.  Red Hat pushes forward with KVM technology

Since Red Hat acquired Qumranet back in September 2008, the company has made a strategic decision to use KVM as its core virtualization technology. Throughout 2009, Red Hat introduced the virtualization world to a number of virtualization product lines aimed at disrupting those virtualization solution providers already entrenched in the market place. The line included a built-in virtualization platform for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, as well as virtual machine management products for desktops and servers. Add to that a stand-alone hypervisor and the company would be well positioned for something interesting in 2010.

When the company announced Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 along with the built-in KVM hypervisor technology, it was laying the foundation for a larger virtualization strategy that would not only encompass virtualization but cloud computing as well.

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization launched and took things right at the virtualization leaders. The KVM hypervisor supports both Linux and Windows virtual servers and desktops, scales to 96 cores with 1TB of memory on the host, and uses up to 16 virtual CPUs and 64GB of memory at the guest level. It also supports live migration, power management, multipart I/O, and memory page sharing. The company's management software for servers provided high availability, live migration, load balancing, image management, and centralized monitoring tools.

And in 2009, the company also further entrenched themselves by announcing an interoperability agreement with Microsoft and by releasing the Red Hat SPICE protocol as an open source desktop remote protocol.

Because of the things that they had accomplished throughout 2009, Red Hat is well poised to make a big splash in 2010 if it continues to execute in the same manner.

2.  Cisco partnership with EMC and VMware debuts

Big news was made in the last quarter of 2009 when three industry-leading companies, Cisco Systems, EMC, and VMware, announced a partnership agreement around creating a new integrated datacenter coalition called the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE).

Cisco had been trying to break into the server and blade market for quite some time but wasn't really getting much traction with its Unified Computing System (UCS). At the same time, EMC and VMware were also hoping to get more of a footprint into the cloud computing market. Together, these three companies would create a product line known as the Vblock Infrastructure Package, which would integrate the hardware and software from all three vendors. It would offer consumers a fully tested, integrated, ready-to-go package that combines networking and server solutions from Cisco, storage and security from EMC, and virtualization software from VMware. This best-of-breed technology could be considered by many to be a nice "cloud in a box" solution.

How well will this new alliance take shape in 2010? Or will it go the way of UCS? Can these three companies make this announcement more than just a marketing piece? And then what about HP, IBM, NetApp, and others? How will their responses take shape in 2010?

1.  VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft up the ante with new hypervisors and expanded server virtualization power

Yoda wasn't the only being in the universe to notice a great disturbance in the Force. 2009 saw dramatic changes to the server virtualization market with the release of three new platforms from the three major players: VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft. These three companies have been locked in a major battle for market share for some time now. And VMware has and continued to dominate it throughout 2009. However, with the increased fighting came increased features and capabilities, causing the consumer to win in the end. And in 2009, this battle really heated things up. All three major players released feature-rich virtualization platforms that would make anyone proud. And these significant releases would ensure that these companies would all be around again to do battle in 2010 and the foreseeable future.

VMware: VMware made its strike in April 2009 with the launch of its next-generation virtualization platform, VMware vSphere 4, the company's successor to its VI3 platform. At its core, vSphere 4 was still based on the trusted hypervisor technology of VMware ESX.  However, VMware took the opportunity to rewrite the ESX hypervisor code to run natively on 64-bit processors. The new platform could also deliver more powerful virtual machines, thanks to an increase in the number of supported virtual processors per VM, doubling from four to eight. And it quadrupled the amount of memory from 64GB to 256GB, increased the maximum number of IOPS, and added support for Intel's Xeon 5500 Nehalem chips to take advantage of new virtualization extensions and expanded memory access. It also added support for VMware Fault Tolerance, thin provisioning for storage, and better Distributed Power Management.

With new performance and scalability increases and new application stacks surrounding it, VMware was able to prove that the new virtualization platform could handle running many more business-critical and performance-critical applications, moving beyond low-hanging fruit and simple consolidation projects. In November, VMware released vSphere 4 Update 1, which added support for Windows 7 as a guest operating system and added anticipated support for VMware View 4. VMware gave plenty of reasons to upgrade to vSphere 4 and made a lot of noise in 2009 around the release of its new platform.

Citrix: Citrix is no stranger to competition, and the VMware vSphere 4 announcement didn't seem to faze the company one bit as it launched its own virtualization platform update in June 2009. Citrix announced what could probably be considered a great equalizer in the server virtualization market: the launch of Citrix XenServer 5.5.

In a bold announcement a few months earlier, Citrix said that XenServer would be free of charge, even for production use. XenServer 5.5 would continue to be free, and with it Citrix piled on added functionality. XenServer 5.5 added consolidated backup, Active Directory integration, XenConvert for migrating disk files, and a much larger set of supported guest operating systems. Citrix Essentials was also updated, expanding storage integration, automated lab and stage management, and dynamic load balancing.

In early 2009, the analyst firm The Burton Group launched a project to study and compare the different virtualization offerings available to the market. The study was meant to determine which hypervisors met certain criteria to be considered enterprise-ready platforms. In mid-2009, the analyst firm announced that Citrix had met 100 percent of the required features, and Citrix demonstrated that its platform met the security, management, availability, storage, network, compute, scalability, and performance requirements typical of many enterprises. At that time, Citrix and VMware were the only two platforms to meet these requirements.

But even bigger news came later in October when Citrix announced that it would be open sourcing XenServer -- no, not the Xen hypervisor, but all of XenServer itself. The company's CTO Simon Crosby said this would help Citrix increase market share and increase revenue from its management applications. This alone could have major implications in 2010 within the virtualization market share battle taking place.

Microsoft: And finally, a huge news story in July 2009 was the release of Microsoft Hyper-V R2. The R2 update marked a significant improvement to Hyper-V by providing major functionality improvements to the product. Microsoft added Live Migration, Cluster Shared Volumes, hot add/remove virtual storage, storage performance improvements, Jumbo Frame and TCP/IP Offload networking support, increased resource support, and additional guest operating system support.

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