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VMworld Attendees Welcome Microsoft To Virtualization Party

VMware's customers plan to check out other virtualization options, but are pretty happy with the vendor's products, an informal survey shows.
At Pitney Bowes, the mail management firm in Shelton, Conn., 70% of the firm's test and development servers are already virtualized.

That's meant over the last two years a drastic reduction in the number of servers. Pitney Bowes benefited from a wave of server consolidation that cut a total of about 310 servers to just 22, each running 14 to 15 virtual machines under VMware ESX Server.

The 22 servers are managed through VMware Infrastructure 3, including one instance of VMware's Virtual Center virtual machine management software. But the VMware customer's silver cloud isn't without its dark lining.

"VMware is great, but it's getting expensive paying for all the VMware servers," said Vikas Kolte, Pitney Bowes IT manager, said in an interview.

Kolte, a tall, sturdy framed attendee of this week's VMworld 2007 user group conference in San Francisco, noted that Pitney Bowes is primarily a Windows Server shop. "We will definitely look at Viridian and managing [its virtual machines] through Microsoft Operations Manager," he said, when Viridian is added to Windows Server 2008 sometime between February and August 2008.

Pitney Bowes also is looking at virtual machine monitoring capabilities of BMC Software's Patrol and the freeware Nagio. "We're a Windows shop. If there's an alternative in the market with comparable features, we'll take a look at it," Kolte said.

"You've got to keep an open mind," agreed Ed Longstrom, senior consultant with inOrbiIT Technologies, an IT consulting firm in the Bronx, N.Y. His firm will evaluate Viridian versus ESX Server when it comes out, and if suitable, recommend it to customers, even though he likes ESX Server.

These views were seconded by about half of the attendees interviewed in an impromptu survey of VMware's customer base. And those results might speak to future difficulty ahead for VMware as the virtualization market leader if it doesn't maintain an edge that convinces its customers that they've got something worth paying for.

The virtualization hypervisor is slowly but surely becoming commoditized, with XenSource, now owned by Citrix, upgrading open source Xen as fast as it can and would-be competitors, such as Virtual Iron, doing their best to add monitoring and management tools to the hypervisor.

Not surprisingly, however, the VMworld attendees also exhibited a lot of brand respect when it came to VMware and said their long-term loyalty will hinge on more than virtualization's basic building block.

David Ng, technical architect, Syscom Consulting, an IT outsourcing firm in Vancouver, Canada, also is a Windows shop and is in the process of cutting its server head count. Over the past year, its cut 8 to 9 olders servers out of the data center as it virtualized 25% of its servers with VMware ESX Server and Virtual Center.

Ng took a look at the Xen open source hypervisor for the first time at VMworld but says "it's not something I'd put it in production."

"We're a big Microsoft shop, a Gold partner. We consult on a lot of their products," he said. But Viridian is going to be a tough sell if VMware keeps the pressure on with constant improvements to its product line. The announcement at VMworld that four major hardware manufacturers, Dell, HP, IBM, and Fujitsu Siemens Computers, will pre-install ESX Server 3i as a feature of their hardware made a strong impression on Ng.

"With 3i, VMware is another step ahead," he said.

Steve Curling, solutions architect for Lloyds TSB Bank in London, agreed. "3i effectively takes the hassle out of virtualization. We have a service company do server builds for us. But a 3i equipped server doesn't need special skills," he said. "We'll look at Viridian when it comes out. But Microsoft hasn't been a big player in the past. VMware has too big a lead."

Gene Hahn, systems analyst for the Nebraska Public Power District in Columbus, Neb., said his firm wants to implement virtualization for MySAP applications. After reviewing Xen and Microsoft's statements on Viridian, he plans to run VMware. "The ESX product is mature today. We selected it. We won't run several competing technologies. The others haven't kept up at all," he said,

Prashant Bungale, a Harvard University PhD student in computer science, said his research project involved putting software measures into the virtualization layer to see how well they can produce a refined image of all the systems running above it. He's loaded Xen on a server and worked with it alongside ESX Server.

Virtualization, or generating a machine in software that shares real hardware resources with other virtual machines, "is the art of lying. Doing this stuff is very challenging, very intricate," he said. "You don't want the guest operating system to detect they you're lying."

He's followed virtualization developments for four years and said VMware "is the undoubted pioneer. They've gotten there before any of us could have envisioned what a big thing virtualizatin was going to become. They have a technology edge that is probably unbeatable by anyone."