Dell's Acquisition of EMC Likely to Spur Investment in Alternative Hypervisors

Hardware vendors, seeing the threat of a Dell/EMC partnership, will likely turn to KVM.

If you haven't been living under a rock the last few days, you've undoubtedly heard the news that Dell is set to acquire EMC. This is huge news because EMC is more than a storage hardware and software company. EMC is a federation of companies which includes storage hardware, security software, virtualization software, and mobile device management. One of the largest of these companies is, of course, VMware. While EMC owns in excess of 80 percent of VMware, it has largely allowed the company to run independently. This independence has allowed VMware to partner with other players in the storage space. An independent VMware means a better VMware, right? After all, this independence has allowed VMware to support countless compute, storage, and network hardware platforms.

An Independent VMware
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger has rated the acquisition as "very positive." On the morning of the announcement, he spoke on an analyst call saying he "could not be more excited" about the announcement. Everything Gelsinger has said suggests he expected VMware to remain an independent force, with partnerships with many different hardware companies.

It would seem that Dell will treat VMware similar to EMC, allowing them to set their own agenda and innovate as they see fit. I have no doubt this is the case, since an independent VMware means a happy customer base. A happy customer base means more sales for VMware. This is a win for customers, as it allows VMware to invest in the next generation of technology. This is also a win for Dell. The more money VMware makes, the more money Dell earns.

This is where things could get interesting.

Imagine for a moment that you're a server manufacturer like HP or Cisco. Dell is one of your competitors in this space, so them having access to more capital allows them to out-innovate and out-price you. How can you take away some of the capital so that Dell can't do this as easily? 

KVM Rising
One possible option lies in investing in an alternative hypervisor. VMware has been the dominant force in the server virtualization market since its inception. KVM and Hyper-V have been making some noise in the x86 server virtualization world, but haven't made a big splash -- yet. For many of today's enterprise customers, they just aren't quite mature enough. VMware dominates in this space because it's built for enterprises, with features like High Availability (HA) and Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS). A few competitors, like Nutanix and Scale Computing, have started to offer solutions built on KVM. They are widely regarded as "good enough," but still lacking for many enterprises.

The large server hardware vendors have remained largely out of the hypervisor development game. They invest in things like the Open Virtualization Alliance, but it's not an area of focus. Instead, they have remained hypervisor agnostic, content to go where the industry takes them. Something is bound to change, now that a successful VMware means a harder-to-compete-against Dell.

Hardware Vendors Leading the Charge
When the Dell acquisition of EMC closes don't expect a sudden shift to KVM; a new hypervisor can't immediately emerge to take the lead from VMware. Instead, expect to see hardware companies put more of their research dollars into developing an alternative hypervisor.

Many are apprehensive about this deal. I've been asked numerous times, "What will Dell do to VMware?" The answer is simple: Nothing will change. Dell will keep VMware at arms' length as they develop tighter hardware integration. To ensure VMware continues printing money, it will remain independent from Dell. However, other hardware vendors won't care.

A renewed era of investment into alternative hypervisors is going to ensue, with hardware vendors leading the charge. KVM, with its strong ties to OpenStack, is likely to benefit the most from new investments. The industry is starting to see an increase in OpenStack adoption, and the hardware vendors will seek to capitalize on that fact.

About the Author

For more than 20 years, Mark May has been deep in the trenches designing enterprise-class datacenter solutions. Starting out his career in 1995 Mark embraced his entrepreneurial spirit to co-found a small internet service provider in Ohio. During this time, he helped many other organizations, both small and large, develop network solutions. It was during these years Mark was first exposed to the world of enterprise storage, where he eventually focused his efforts.

Working in the enterprise space has given Mark has an excellent understanding of the challenges facing the modern infrastructure provider. With a deep understanding of storage, networking, and virtualization he can help clients design and implement new solutions to address these challenges. Mark is an energetic speaker who seeks to entertain and educate people. He's written many articles on storage, networking and virtualization technologies.


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