VMware: Speeding Ahead
Ask VMware customers what they like about the market leader in virtualization software, and they'll say quick deployments and advanced features. Ask users who didn't go with VMware why not, and they'll say the firm charges too much.
The Palo Alto, Calif., software maker, founded in 1998 and acquired by EMC in early 2004, is widely regarded as the top vendor for virtualization software, both in terms of market share and technology. Its best-known products include VMware Server, a free, hosted virtualization tool formerly called GSX Server; and ESX Server, which introduced a hypervisor, or virtualization software that runs directly on top of the physical server, controlling the operating system.
Baptist Healthcare, a system of six hospitals across Kentucky, has been a VMware customer since just after its first product release in 1999. In 2003, Baptist switched to the new ESX Server. Tom Taylor, Baptist's corporate manager for client/server architecture, was looking for a "faster response," a tool that could help him deploy servers quickly at the request of project managers within the company.
Before virtualizing, processing these requests and setting up multiple physical servers took up to six weeks. With ESX Server, Taylor says, he can have the same project done in 30 minutes, without the hardware and labor costs.
Baptist currently has 250 virtual servers on 18 ESX 2.0 servers, running on a combination of Hewlett-Packard boxes. If those were physical servers, Taylor says, he'd be managing 14 times more hardware.
When Ben Thompson, senior network engineer and manager with the Community College of Baltimore County (Md.), first heard about VMware in early 2003, he thought there was no way it could work. He knew how successful virtualization was in the mainframe world, but for x86 servers, he expected problems with processing capacity and memory sharing.
But Thompson was sold after testing ESX Server. One reason was VMotion, a feature that lets users move a virtual machine, while it's running, from one physical server to another.
He has a wish, though: for VMware to support older versions of Red Hat and smaller Linux variations like Gentoo and Slackware. Still, he says VMware is up-front about what it supports. "They're quick to say, 'Sorry, we can't help you,'" Thompson says. "I know they can't be everything to everyone."
Bogomil Balkansky, VMware product marketing director, says one of the vendor's top priorities is to expand its list of compatible operating systems and applications. He does add that of the true hypervisor-based vendors, VMware has the widest compatibility.
The biggest knock against VMware doesn't come from its customersit comes from those it never won. Several technology managers using Microsoft Virtual Server say price was a determining factor; Virtual Server 2005, Microsoft's newest offering, was free, while ESX Server was too pricey, they say. (VMware's Server product, which is comparable to Virtual Server 2005, was free as well at the time.) Those customers, however, say VMware offers many bells and whistles that Microsoft lacks, like VMotion.
Today, VMware bases its ESX Server pricing on cost per two processors, and currently offers three options: Starter ($1,000), which includes a hypervisor but no storage-area network support; Standard ($3,750), with storage support; and Enterprise ($5,750), featuring, among other things, VMotion and high availability guest failover.