Just over a year ago we took a close look at the hypervisor market. We examined the top three players, reviewed their features and offered some ideas regarding direction and technological innovation.
A lot can change in a year.
Over the course of 2013, we saw a huge increase in data center adoption, hybrid cloud models, and an even greater push towards hypervisor and infrastructure agnosticism. That’s where we find out biggest changes. The hypervisor market no longer caters to the paravirtualization drivers it has to optimize, nor does it really care as much about the hardware that it sits on. Of course, those are still crucial to the virtualization experience.
But now the big connection point revolves around the cloud. How well can you integrate with a hypervisor sitting thousands of miles away? How well can your platform extend an existing data center into a hybrid cloud model? Can your hypervisor integrate with critical APIs to increase efficiency and optimize the end-user computing experience?
In our previous discussion, we took a look at the definitions behind what comprises a hypervisor. Let’s revisit those key definitions and add some more:
- Type I Hypervisor. This type of hypervisor is deployed as a bare-metal installation. This means that the first thing to be installed on a server as the operating system will be the hypervisor. The benefit of this software is that the hypervisor will communicate directly with the underlying physical server hardware. Those resources are then paravirtualized and delivered to the running VMs. This is the preferred method for many production systems.
- Type II Hypervisor. This model is also known as a hosted hypervisor. The software is not installed onto the bare-metal, but instead is loaded on top of an already live operating system. For example, a server running Windows Server 2008R2 can have vSphere 5 installed on top of that OS. Although there is an extra hop for the resources to take when they pass through to the VM, the latency is minimal and with today’s modern software enhancements, the hypervisor can still perform optimally.
- Guest Machine. A guest machine, also known as a virtual machine (VM) is the workload installed on top of the hypervisor. This can be a virtual appliance, operating system or other type of virtualization-ready workload. This guest machine will, for all intents and purposes, believe that it is its own unit with its own dedicated resources. So, instead of using a physical server for just one purpose, virtualization allows for multiple VMs to run on top of that physical host. All of this happens while resources are intelligently shared between other VMs.
- Host Machine. This is known as the physical host. Within virtualization, there may be several components – SAN, LAN, cabling, and so on. In this case, we are focusing on the resources located on the physical server. The resource can include RAM and CPU. These are then divided between VMs and distributed as the administrator sees fit. So, a machine needing more RAM (a domain controller) would receive that allocation, while a less important VM (a licensing server for example) would have fewer resources. With today’s hypervisor technologies, many of these resources can be dynamically allocated.
- Paravirtualization Tools. After the guest VM is installed on top of the hypervisor, there usually is a set of tools which are installed into the guest VM. These tools provide a set of operations and drivers for the guest VM to run more optimally. For example, although natively installed drivers for a NIC will work, paravirtualized NIC drivers will communicate with the underlying physical layer much more efficiently. Furthermore, advanced networking configurations become a reality when paravirtualized NIC drivers are deployed.
- APIs. Application programming interfaces (APIs) dictats how some infrastructure components interact with other resources within a data center. These software-based components really revolved in a certain area of IT – until recently. Now, there is quite a bit of interaction between APIs and the hypervisor specifically. There are new ways to tie in resources or integrate directly into a hypervisor to reduce the amount of hops that resources have to take. Client-less security, application inter-dependence, and integration with key hardware components are all things that APIs can help with.
With that in mind, let’s examine how the hypervisor market has changed.
A look at the “big two”
Last year’s Gartner Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure had three big names in the leaders’ quadrant. This year’s report only shows two.
VMware – The release of vSphere 5.1 was a big move to help improve scalability, performance and integration with advanced virtual switching technologies. Couple this with some new features around replication and storage and you’ve got a still-solid product. Even though some of its strong growth has slowed down, VMware still reigns in the virtualization market. Now, with the release of vSphere 5.5 we’re seeing even more integration into the cloud. The hybrid cloud push has been received very well. As more organizations look to extend their environments, VMware is in a prime spot to start really rolling out its VMware vCloud Hybrid Service. Their hypervisor platform continues to integrate with various APIs and VMware retains a close relationship with numerous technology partners. Honestly, one of the main issues still facing VMware is price and a technology model that is becoming a bit more competitive. So what’s new in VMware vSphere 5.5? Quite a bit actually.
- Expanded vGPU Support
- Graphics Acceleration for Linux Guests
- vSphere Web Client
- vSphere Doubled Host-Level Configuration Maximums
- Improved Power Management
- vSphere Big Data Extensions(BDE)
- vSphere Flash Read Cache
- Quality of Service Tagging
- 40Gb NIC Support
Microsoft – Well, it’s been five years since Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) came out. What have we learned? Microsoft has an amazing customer base and an unbelievable ability to deliver a product that simply gets adopted. The release of Server 2012, coupled with a new licensing structure, saw a lot of people moving to or testing out Hyper-V. Fast-forward to today and Hyper-V is comfortably sitting in the leaders section of the Gartner Magic Quadrant. And it seems to have become a very exclusive club with only VMware and Microsoft participating. One of the complaints around the platform has been the lack of centralized management outside of SCVMM. Otherwise, the technology around Hyper-V continues to be solid and continues to grow in adoption.
One of the biggest challenges for Microsoft Hyper-V is overcoming the entrenched competitor when it comes to hypervisors. But we’re now seeing this happen. Now, we’re seeing more integration with cloud platforms, virtual appliances and even extensions into the Azure framework. Unlike VMware, Microsoft needs to make sure that it remains a non-proprietary product. The fact of the matter is that VMware integrates better with technology likes OpenStack and even Eucalyptus with their VMware Broker. This big push for cloud adoption and open-source systems is something that Microsoft absolutely needs to take seriously. So, what are some of the new features in Hyper-V 3 for Server 2012 R2?
- Improved Failover Clustering and Hyper-V
- Enhanced session mode
- Automatic Virtual Machine Activation
- Enhanced Hyper-V Networking
- Storage Quality of Service
- Shared virtual hard disk
- Improved live migrations
- Improved export functionality
The “other” list
Before anyone gets upset about the placement of their respective hypervisor, it’s important to note that the virtualization market continues to expand. And, just like any technology, innovation helps push technologies to the next level. A big customer base can help as well. Citrix held strong with their XenServer product. The entire Xen platform has been a complete powerhouse when it came to open-source hypervisor technologies. It still continues to be one of the leading development platforms for virtualization infrastructure. Still, the acquisition of XenSource and the subsequent push towards hypervisor dominance was fairly short-lived for Citrix. It now finds itself out of the leaders quadrant, but certainly NOT forgotten.
Citrix XenServer 6.2 – Please don’t give up on this platform. There have been numerous rumors that Citrix is giving up on its beloved hypervisor. Some have said that the amount of deprecated features and the lack of marketing around the platform means that Citrix is retiring its hypervisor initiative. Folks, this is not true at all. They’re not retiring anything. If anything, Citrix is repurposing. In looking at what Citrix did, you quickly realize that it wasn’t a bad idea. They see that competing against Microsoft and VMware in the server hypervisor market is pretty pointless. So, why not keep the powerful hypervisor platform and go directly after the cloud? In fact, that’s what they’re doing. Greater integration with open-source systems and the big push around Cloud Platform is giving this hypervisor life in the clouds! So what’s new with the former “top-three” hypervisor?
- Licensing. (As in XenServer 6.2 is now a free, open-source hypervisor platform with every enterprise feature available. You can still buy the commercial product which will give you support, easier patch management and an account portal with Citrix.)
- Scalability for VMs per host.
- Improved monitoring.
- Clone on boot.
- Dom0 traffic reduction.
- Auto-scaling of Dom0 memory.
- Improved and integrated Performance and Monitoring Supplemental Pack.
To round off the conversation, we’ll take a quick look at some of the other niche players in the market. These guys are out there, making waves and should certainly be noticed.
KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) – It’s not quite as mainstream as the others in the list, but it certainly deserves a bit of notice. Already, organizations like IBM, HP, Red Hat, and Eucalyptus Systems are backing the KVM platform. Plus for an SME (and even some very large shops), this can be an amazing, cost-effective, solution to the virtualization question.
Oracle VM 3.2 – This platform is actually very feature rich, and free. Solid support and a good environment have seen Oracle VM grow rapidly around Oracle-based systems and others as well. Oracle has done a great job of unifying the virtualization experience between both SPARC and x86 systems.
Cloud computing and virtualization will continue to play hand-in-hand. These technologies help to consolidate as well as enhance an environment. Organizations looking to move towards a hypervisor platform need to look at capabilities available both today and in the near future. The vast amount of cloud integration means that locking yourself down with an inflexible vendor can have negative repercussion for future projects.
Over the course of the next few years, the way we compute and process information is going to change. Already we’re seeing the death of the PC and the rise of mobility. Make sure that both your hypervisor and infrastructure are ready to handle this new technical world.