The Great Car Debate

When it comes to virtualization offerings, how can you get the performance of a Lexus at the price of a Honda?

So which would you rather have: a Rolls-Royce or a Prius? Most of us would immediately shout "Rolls!" But there's a catch: You have a budget to live within, and it's not unlimited. Hmm. The answer suddenly isn't so easy.

That was the gist of a recent debate about virtualization platform performance. Citrix CTO Simon Crosby and Scott Drummonds, technical marketing manager at VMware, participated in the debate, which took place in July at Burton Group's Catalyst conference in San Diego.

During the debate, Crosby compared VMware to a Rolls, and Citrix to the Prius. "This guy will sell you a Rolls-Royce," said Crosby, comparing that luxury vehicle to VMware's hypervisor. It's beautiful, he said, but also "darn expensive. You've got to pay for a driver, the gas bill is through the roof, and you have to service it -- in fact, you have to have two of them to keep one on the road," he added, continuing the analogy.

And what of XenServer, Citrix's hypervisor? It's the Toyota of the industry, Crosby proclaimed. "We sell a Prius. It drives on the same roads, has different technology inside, and it's [cheaper] for what you're trying to do."

It's an interesting comparison. Citrix -- and its close virtualization partner, Microsoft -- continually tout the relative value of their virtualization offerings compared to VMware. And it's absolutely true that upfront costs for both are lower. XenServer 5.5 is free, as is Microsoft's Hyper-V Server, the standalone product. (You could also make the case, as Microsoft has, that the version of Hyper-V that comes baked into Windows Server 2008 is free. As you have to pay for Windows 2008, I would disagree with that argument, but it's true that you don't pay anything extra for Hyper-V.)

Citrix's licensing is also a better deal in most cases. Customers pay per server, rather than per processor. In this day and age, that's a significant factor, as single-processor servers are an endangered species.

It's not a revelation, really; VMware has always been more expensive than other virtualization platforms. The company argues, however, that what you get is worth the price. Drummonds cleverly pointed out that many of the less-expensive cars have engine "governors" that limit how fast they can go. The implication is obvious: VMware costs more, but has better performance and scalability -- you're not limited in how much you rev the engine.

In addition, VMware's newly released model, vSphere, is even faster than the old VMware Infrastructure 3 vehicle. Our cover story this month goes under the hood to examine the changes, and finds the hypervisor to be better than ever. Popular virtualization blogger Eric Siebert, via Twitter, added to the analogy when he wrote: "I don't think I'd want a [sic] underpowered car in my data center even if it saved me a few bucks."

Citrix can counter that claim with a new study by Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf, who maintains a list of products that meet his criteria for determining whether a virtualization platform is enterprise-production ready. Until recently, that list consisted of just one product: VMware Infrastructure. Wolf revisited the list with the release of the latest version of XenServer, and added XenServer 5.5 (with Citrix Essentials 5.5 Platinum Edition) to that exclusive club.

So if XenServer is getting closer to vSphere in functionality, and Microsoft is gaining with the upcoming R2 release of Hyper-V, the question for many administrators may become: What if you could get Lexus performance for Honda prices? You're still not getting a Rolls, but these competitors are increasingly moving into the fast lane. Are customers willing to forego some top-end speed for easier car payments? We may be heading for a photo finish.

Are you taking XenServer or Hyper-V for a test drive, or sticking with the rich Corinthian leather of vSphere? Drop me a line at kward@1105media.com.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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