ORLANDO, Fla.-Eric Horschman knows that the once-cozy relationship that VMware and Microsoft once enjoyed is about to change in the next few weeks.
“We’re clearly about to go into direct competition with Microsoft with its Hyper-V technology,” Horschman, director of product marketing for VMware, said in an interview here at the Microsoft TechEd 2008 Professionals event.
Hyper-V is Microsoft’s upcoming virtualization technology. A source close to Microsoft said Hyper-V will be released in early July, though Microsoft officials will only say the technology will be released ahead of the mid-August deadline they set for it.
A beta version was released in February when the software company launched Windows Server 2008, and a Release Candidate was rolled out about a month ago.
For the past several years, VMware has been the unquestioned leader in x86 virtualization. However, new challengers big and small have cropped up in recent years, and while that has been bad news for VMware, it has been a boon for businesses that now enjoy not only a rapidly growing number of options and falling prices but also the fruits of the innovation that competition drives.
As Microsoft gears up for the Hyper-V release, VMware and Citrix Systems, which jumped into the fray with its purchase last year of XenSource and its open-source virtualization technology, are continuing to roll out new products and enhancements.
Citrix June 9 released the latest version of its Access Gateway appliance-Version 8.1-now integrated with Citrix XenDesktop, which allows IT departments to create a virtual desktop infrastructure where the desktop images and applications are streamed to the PC from a server housed in the data center.
For its part, VMware June 10 unveiled an application virtualization technology and enhancements to a desktop virtualization product. The company’s ThinApp 4 application virtualization offering enables users to run multiple versions of applications on any version of Windows without disruption.
Horschman said the ThinApp technology-which VMware acquired via its purchase of Thinstall in January-is agentless, which allows IT administrators to quickly deploy it without needing preinstalled software on physical or virtual PCs, or having to install new management tools.
“There’s no need to touch the [PC’s] software at all,” he said. “This offers a lot of flexibility.”
ThinApp 4 offers Application Link and Application Sync for easier management of virtualized applications. The first allows two virtualized applications to communicate with each other. The second enables remote virtual applications to be updated.
In addition, VMware also upgraded Virtual Desktop Manager 2. The software, which connects remote clients to centralized virtualized desktops, allows IT administrators to centrally manage thousands of virtual desktop PCs simultaneously, easing the burden of managing, patching and provisioning those systems.
VMware also rolled out versions in German and Japanese.
The move illustrates the rapid growth of virtualization, which started as a server consolidation play and is expanding into such areas as the desktop, I/O and storage.
The initial tight relationship between VMware and Microsoft benefited both companies, Horschman said: VMware could virtualize Windows environments, which also gave it access to Microsoft clients.
The two companies also have support agreements that make it easier for users to find help for their VMware-virtualized environments, he said.
However, with Hyper-V on the horizon, the two are about to ramp up the competition knowing that they will have to continue cooperating as well. That doesn’t keep the officials of either company from pointing out perceived weaknesses of the other.
The key difference, Horschman said, is that Hyper-V is part of Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 operating system. Conversely, VMware is moving its hypervisor technology away from the operating system. The latest example is ESXi, released late last year, which is an operating system-independent hypervisor that can be integrated into the server or used as a stand-alone hard drive install.
“It takes a huge chunk of the software out of play,” which increases security around the virtual machines by separating them from the malware and other vulnerabilities in operating systems, Horschman said. “These are two fundamentally different views of where the hypervisor should go.”
Not so, said Jeff Woolsey, senior program manager for Hyper-V. “I would contend that [VMware’s] ESX [Server] is an operating system,” Woolsey said.
He also said there is an advantage for users in having a virtualization hypervisor tightly integrated with the slew of capabilities Microsoft offers in Windows Server 2008.
Woolsey disagreed with Horschman’s assessment that Hyper-V is little more than a first-generation hypervisor, little more than what VMware was offering several years ago. Woolsey said a few dozen customers are running production environments on the Hyper-V beta, and that Microsoft itself is using the beta to run its TechNet and MSDN Web sites, which get a combined 4 million hits a day.
“These have been running in Hyper-V since the beta, and there has been no problem,” he said.
He also pointed out there there are more than 175 servers that have been qualified for Hyper-V, and that the technology offers high-availability and failover cluster capabilities. That means if the physical server goes down, those virtual machines running on it automatically are switched to other physical systems.
At this point, Woolsey said, the only key advantage VMware holds over Microsoft is the ability to migrate live virtual machines, something VMware offers in its VMotion technology. Woolsey said the live migration capabilities will be available in the next version of Hyper-V. He declined to say when that will be released.
“We feel good about the performance and management” of Hyper-V, Woolsey said, pointing out that Microsoft testing showed Hyper-V outperforming ESX.