Over the past seven years or so I’ve seen machine virtualization grow from a neat trick for server consolidation to a platform for agile data center management. Throughout that time there has never been doubt about who is number one in this game. But I’ve also been impressed that VMware has never been complacent about their leader status.
An interesting story has not been so much VMware’s leadership but whether any other player would ever be a serious and legitimate alternative. Five years ago it was really no contest. Today there is a contest, particularly from Microsoft. But in tracking the progress of competitors we shouldn’t take VMware’s leadership position for granted. VMware doesn’t.
In short, let’s give VMware their due.
Areas of Leadership
In focusing on a competitive landscape we often look at feature parity. Back in the day there were things that VMware did that nobody else did. Things like being able to move a running virtual machine from one host to another and being able to increase the number of VMs that could comfortably share a host machine through memory sharing.
But VMware can rightly claim that, while the competition can add “me too” features, that doesn’t mean that they do it better. In memory sharing and “over commit”, for example, the competition can claim progress, but VMware has a larger slate of capabilities including memory compression and transparent page sharing. In memory management, VMware is clearly ahead.
Another example is storage management. In a shared environment, storage management is critical. VMware is not the only vendor that has storage management in their portfolio, but VMware is the only one that has built APIs (vSphere APIs for Array Integration or VAAI) to integrate virtual management with the native management of storage arrays. The degree to which storage vendors support VAAI is a differentiating feature in our storage vendor landscapes.
VMware can, and does, point to other areas where they continue to show leadership. In securing virtual infrastructure, for example, VMware has vShield application, data, network, and endpoint security. These have recently been amalgamated under the banner of vCloud Networking and Security 5.1.
Good Enough Might Be Good Enough
Does all this mean that we think VMware is the only and obvious choice for virtualization in your infrastructure? Of course not. You don’t always need to go with best in class. Sometimes good enough is good enough. As noted above, an interesting story has been about whether the competition has been good enough.
A year ago I blogged on how Microsoft is VMware’s only real competitive threat. I still hold to this position. Microsoft has continued to get traction for Hyper-V. The main reason they have not been a champion in our Vendor Landscapes has been the slow general availability release of Hyper-V 3.0 and System Center 2012. Microsoft has a tendency to talk about a product as if it is in general use a year or more before the fact. Only now is it coming together in actual product.
Citrix XenServer has always scored well in our feature-by-feature comparisons with VMware but it has struggled for market share. Citrix no longer argues XenServer as a general replacement for VMware instead focusing on targeting it to areas where Citrix has existing strength such as application and desktop virtualization and service provider clouds.
In the meantime, VMware continues to do what they have always done, focus on where virtualization is going next and innovating to remain the market leader. This includes cloud of course as well as the fully software defined data center (servers, networks, and storage).