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What's next with hypervisors?

A roundtable discussion with experts

By , Network World
December 13, 2011 06:09 AM ET

Network World - The world of hypervisors is complicated by the fact that there are proprietary and open source tools and the latter are often pressed into service in different ways, say nothing of the fact that the whole market is evolving quickly. To get a handle on recent developments, Network World Editor in Chief John Dix corralled a panel of experts to assess where we are today and where we're going. The experts included Al Gillen, an analyst IDC who tracks virtualization developments, Kerry Kim, director of solutions marketing at SUSE, and Adam Jollans, program director of IBM's Linux and Open Virtualization Strategy.

Let's start with a stage-setting question. What are some of the key differences between the various hypervisor camps at this point?

KIM: One of the differences between proprietary products and the open source hypervisors is we're seeing a more rapid pace of innovation around open source technologies and, in conjunction with that open development model, more complementary modules and service and support options.

GILLEN: I'm the first one to agree that open source solutions tend to rev very quickly and that's important in certain market segments, but enterprise customers frankly don't want to have that kind of change pushed at them. They don't download the open source bits themselves, they go to a commercial provider like SUSE or Red Hat or Oracle and get a commercially supported product. It's not because customers don't want innovation; they just can't really embrace the innovation as quickly as it comes.

TECH ARGUMENT: Open source vs. proprietary software

JOLLANS: The big change happened around 2005 when we started to see hardware support for virtualization in x86 processor lines from both Intel and AMD. Before that, doing virtualization on x86 was actually quite difficult. With hardware support, it became a lot easier, which opened up the opportunity for many more hypervisors in the marketplace and really set the stage.

What would encourage someone to use a proprietary hypervisor versus one of the open source tools?

GILLEN: There are a couple of things that drive customers to choose a hypervisor and it's not always about the best technology. In many cases customers chose a hypervisor based on the fact that they have multiple platforms and they try to pick a common denominator; one infrastructure that will support all of the servers they wish to virtualize.

In other cases customers are going to make a decision based on the relationship between the hypervisor and the operating system they use, meaning they may chose a product from the same vendor so they have a single stack of software. In some cases you find customers making decisions influenced by their longer-term cloud infrastructure plans. So it really comes down to what their infrastructure looks like, what their background is, what their experience has been and where their roadmap is going.

Is it a given that large enterprises will end up with a bunch of hypervisors?

GILLEN: We see that happening today. In general, customers don't want to have three or four hypervisors, but we see them increasingly having more than one. Many customers that made early commitments to VMware, because it was in the market first, are adding other hypervisors around the periphery for workloads they feel are better suited for the alternate hypervisors. In other cases customers are looking at the possibility of a long-term move from one hypervisor product to another, so they begin to test and deploy another hypervisor and get some experience with it and see if it's going to work for them. As a general rule, I would argue that most customers don't want to have any more diversification than they absolutely have to.

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