Server Virtualization: The Year in Review

by Paul Rubens

Server virtualization continued to make inroads in 2011. From the Open Virtualization Alliance to the vSphere 5 hypervisor to the quarterly V-Index, here are the highs and lows.

2011 is all but over, and that means it's time to take a look back at what's been going on in the server virtualization world during the past 12 months.

But first, let's get the whole desktop virtualization thing out of the way. At the start of the year, many commentators suggested 2011 would be the year VDI finally broke into the mainstream. However, despite the best efforts of the people responsible for VMware View, Citrix XenDesktop and all the other VDI systems out there, the desktop variety of virtualization continues to be very niche. Which is a polite way of saying that nobody is really using it.

Will VDI go mainstream in 2012? Probably not.

The early part of 2011 year was quiet, right up until the formation in May of an anti-VMware gang--sorry, industry group--called the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA), which included Intel, HP, Red Hat and BMC. The purpose of OVA was "fostering the adoption of KVM as an open virtualization alternative to proprietary solutions." That and generally being mean to VMware, obviously.

Things hotted up a few days later at Citrix's Synergy festival in May. That was when Wes Wasson, Citrix's chief marketing officer, cast aspersions on VMWare saying that "taking a proprietary virtualization stack and trying to put cloud management stuff on top and calling it a "cloud" involves "questionable economics" and rather "misses the point" of cloud computing. Ironically, at that point he introduced Citrix's cloud offering, Platform Olympus (named after the mountain of the gods, not the struggling Japanese camera maker.) Details? Sadly none were on offer.

Onto the summer, where VMware announced to anyone who would listen at its VMware Forum roadshow that anyone who wasn't virtualizing mission-critical apps (on VMware, naturally) was a moron. Well, not quite in those terms, but certainly that virtualization of mission-critical apps is good for business.

Just a couple of weeks later, the company made arguably the most significant announcement of the year: It introduced the all new, slimmer-than-ever vSphere 5 hypervisor, along with a suite of cloud-enabling software. "Today we are declaring that we are going to be in the integrated infrastructure business for delivering automated data centers," proclaimed Paul Maritz, VMware's CEO, with a straight face. The new version of vSphere supported virtual machines with up to 32 virtual processors and 1TB of RAM, handling more than 36Gb/s of network capacity and 1m IOPs. They were quickly dubbed monster VMs by VMware's PR machine, but the launch was overshadowed by customer apoplexy over the new licensing, regime which introduced the so-called VMware memory tax.

July also saw the publication of the first quarterly V-Index, a survey sponsored by Veeam with all kinds of useful virtualization numbers. Highlights included 39.4 percent--the percentage of servers in all enterprises that are virtual servers, and 6.3--the average number of VMs running on a physical host.

Into August now, and the great VMware memory tax climb-down after the company admitted that its new pricing regime had, ahem, "generated a great deal of passionate feedback from partners." That would be the apoplexy mentioned earlier. Essentially, VMware doubled the vRAM entitlements of its Enterprise and Enterprise+ editions and gave a 50 percent boost to the rest. It also capped the maximum amount of virtual memory it would count in any given VM to 96GB, so even a monster VM with 1TB vRAM would still require only a single Enterprise license. In addition, it counted average vRam usage over a 12 month period to avoid penalizing customers for short-term spikes.

The month also saw the release--in beta, anyway--of Red Hat's KVM based Enterprise Virtualization 3 hypervisor, which would find its way into Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.2 eventually. RHEV 3 proved to be a beefed-up product that supported 128 cores and up to 2TB of memory, with guest VMs supporting up to 64 virtual cores and up to 2TB of memory--quite enough to make VMware's "monster" VMs look more like harmless puppy dogs. The management system has also been moved from Windows to Linux, and it now uses Java and PostegreSQL. Like VDI, KVM was meant to come of age this year, but with the final release of RHEV3 not out until January 2012, it seemed pretty clear Red Hat had given up on 2011 as far as server virtualization was concerned.

September saw some more info come to light about Microsoft's Hyper-V 3, the hypervisor that will be bundled in Windows Server 8, due in 2012. This promised to be good enough to take on VMware and ensure server virtualization is not a single horse race. It emerged that Hyper-V 3 is due to include multiple concurrent Live Migrations, Live Storage Migration and beefed up scaleability with host machines supporting up to 160 logical processors (meaning cores or hyperthreads) and up to 2TB of RAM, and VMs with up to 32 vCPUs (with more promised in the future) and 512GB RAM each. It also promised support for a whopping 63 node clusters with 4,000 VMs per cluster, and a Replica feature that will allow you to put a replica VM on another Hyper-V server in a remote location and keep the replica synchronized with all the latest changes.

Next up was the publication of Veeam's Q3 V-Index, with more illuminating numbers: This time some meaty market share figures. We all knew that VMware was the king of server virtualization, but it turns out that it owned 67.6 percent of the primary hypervisor market; Microsoft's Hyper-V had 16.4 percent; and Citrix's XenServer 14.4 percent. Red Hat's KVM, around which the OVA was based? It, along with "others," commanded just 1.6 percent. (Let's not forget that these numbers refer to primary hypervisor usage; they are not looking at hypervisors used in a secondary capacity.)

October now, and XenServer 6 was announced. Based on the Xen 4.1 hypervisor, it doubled the number of virtual processors each VM can have to 16, and the maximum virtual memory per VM is now 128GB. The amount of physical memory supported on the XenServer physical hosts was also beefed up to 1TB, while the hypervisor supported 64 logical CPUs (cores or hyperthreads). It turned out that as well as being managed by Citrix software, XenServer 6 is also manageable from Microsoft's System Center VMM 2012, and it is compatible with Citrix's CloudStack cloud platform to boot.

Not much else happened in the last few weeks of 2011 (although HP would doubtless disagree, following its monster announcementfest in December outlining thousands of new cloud products and services), so let's finish up with the bizarre virtualization quote of2011.

It stemmed from Microsoft's rather curious announcement in May that Windows Server 2008 R2 would henceforth support CentOS, the poor man's Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Why would Microsoft do such a thing, and more to the point, why would anyone want to run CentOS on Windows? After all, as a Slashdot commenter posted: "Running Linux in a VM on Windows is like strapping yourself to the outside of a car with a seatbelt."

Ain't that just the truth! Happy holiday season and see you in 2012!

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Dec 15th 2011
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