VMware's Greene: No Worries About Microsoft, Linux Hypervisors

Linux operating system

At VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 launch in Cambridge, Mass., Greene said VMware won't fall victim to Microsoft or Linux distributors that incorporate the Xen hypervisor because VMware's platform is far too mature and advanced for rivals to catch up and because customers value virtualization's independence from the operating system.

Unlike rivals' planned offerings, VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 virtualizes an entire infrastructure--not just one server--and offers support for mixed workloads, multiple operating systems and open standards.

Microsoft's planned hypervisor won't be available for another two years, but Greene said VMware vows that Microsoft will not be permitted to use its integration strategy with the operating system to lock customers into its proprietary virtualization API or technology.

"We all want to make sure that is open and freely available to anyone and is not used as a way to get proprietary advantage," Greene said. "It would be a real shame for this industry to go in that direction."

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VMware launched its third-generation platform as the virtualization battleground shifts from stand-alone offerings to the operating system layer.

This year, Novell and Red Hat are expected to ship Linux OS upgrades with Xen hypervisor built in. And two weeks ago, Microsoft--which currently sells its stand-alone Virtual Server 2005 R2 product--announced plans to speed up development of a native virtualization hypervisor for the Windows server operating system as well as a management platform within two years.

At the VMware launch, one VMware customer said he's not ruling out the possibility of cost benefits associated with having a hypervisor in the operating system but noted that he's pleased with the return on investment he's now getting from VMware.

"We've done a lot of Windows, some Linux, and now we'll do Solaris," said Jeff Hunter, a system engineer at Nationwide Insurance, Columbus, Ohio. "We looked at Microsoft Virtual Server and decided to stay with VMware. It was easy to figure out because VMware's VMotion is a key feature and the infrastructure is decoupled from the operating system, [which] makes it more efficient, secure and easier to manage."

VMware pioneered virtualization on the Intel platform and will lobby to ensure that the interface between the hardware and the hypervisor--as well as file formats and management interfaces--are open and standards-based. To that end, VMware is in "dialogue" with members of the Linux community about supporting an industry-standard virtualization interface. VMware has proposed its Virtual Machine Interface (VMI) as a potential standard. One VMware executive said the discussions are active and an agreement is expected within two months.

"The current interface between the Xen hypervisor and Linux kernel, and not on any one distribution, is very intermeshed and you need a standard interface," Greene said at the launch event.

In a brief interview with CRN Monday, Greene said it's imperative that the Virtualization Management Task Force (VMTF) supports the adoption of a standard virtualization interface to protect customer investments and provide a level playing field for all vendors. More than 1 million virtual machine workloads now run on VMware's ESX servers, she said. VMware supports Windows and Linux in its current product and stands to add support for Solaris in the Virtual Infrastructure 3 platform that ships in three weeks.

Still, some industry observers say VMware may suffer the same fate as many other ISVs, whose companies withered away after Microsoft integrated similar capabilities into Windows.

But Greene disagrees. She said VMware is in a unique competitive position because of its sizable market lead, advanced platform capabilities and customer demand to keep virtualization a separate service from the operating system.

"The world is changing," Greene said. "Microsoft is coming out with a hypervisor, but it's questionable whether their hypervisor will treat all operating systems equally. And it's a case where not being in the operating system is what the customer wants in that."

VMware is wise to emphasize the benefits of keeping virtualization distinct from the operating system, according to Pund-IT Research analyst Charles King.

"VMware has been here [in virtualization software] longer than anyone else has, and when you look at Xen's focus on the hypervisor and Microsoft's focus on the operating system, it tends to reflect the old hammer and nail paradigm," King said. "With Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware is trying to change the conversation about what virtualization is about, and unattached from the operating system environment. They are distancing themselves from and lifting themselves above the competition and taking a much more wholistic view of virtualization."

VMware aims to leverage its 3,000-strong channel partners to fight off all competition and deploy Virtual Infrastructrure 3 to small and midsize businesses, departments within enterprises and corporate data centers.

VMware has trained its partners and will offer additional incentives to keep its VARs and consultants happy, including the ability to sell renewals and subscriptions for additional margins, said Carl Eschenbach, executive vice president of worldwide field operations at VMware. VMware's sales force currently handles renewals direct, he said.