When virtualization technology first came on the market, there was a lot of confusion as to what it was and whether it could really be used for production workloads. In the beginning, it was tough going. Hosted virtualization products, such as Microsoft Virtual Server, didn’t provide the best performance. However, over time virtualization technology matured and hypervisor-based virtualization products such as VMware’s ESX Server and Microsoft’s Hyper-V were able to provide performance that’s comparable to bare-metal installations. Nowadays, virtualization is a key component of most IT infrastructures, and many companies only want to implement new virtual servers and need to justify if the server isn’t going to be virtual.
Cloud computing seems to be going through its incubation stage much as virtualization did in its early days. Some companies are testing the waters, but very few are ready to jump in feet first. Let’s see how virtualization technology vendors Microsoft and VMware are approaching the cloud.
Microsoft and VMware’s Approaches to Virtualization
The tie-in between virtualization and the cloud is nebulous. However, at this year’s VMworld it became clear that the two leaders in the virtualization space, VMware and Microsoft, had different approaches to virtualization and very different visions for the cloud. As for virtualization, VMware has always approached virtualization from a basic level where virtualization could be considered a part of the hardware. This approach has made it the clear leader in the virtualization market, and ESX Server is renowned for its robustness and reliability. Microsoft likes to think of virtualization as an attribute of the OS, and its new Hyper-V role makes it very convenient for organizations to easily adopt virtualization.
Different Approaches to the Cloud
Microsoft’s and VMware’s approaches to the cloud are very different. VMware is moving in the direction in which IT is a service. The company is promoting a hybrid approach in which organizations might use services residing in both private and public clouds. New products such as VMware’s vCloud Director enable administrators to provision and secure VM resources in both public and private clouds. For VMware, public cloud services are provided by partners such as BlueLock, COLT, SingTel, Terremark, and Verizon. As you might well imagine, virtualization is still a core tenant for VMware’s cloud strategy. When you provision new services, you’re essentially creating new virtual machines (VMs), either in the private cloud (on-premises) or the public cloud (an Internet service provider).
For Microsoft, the cloud enables an organization to completely bypass the need for virtualization. With this strategy, if you’re using Microsoft’s cloud resources, there’s no need to bother with virtualization. Virtualization might or might not be used to provide cloud services, but that’s something that Microsoft handles as the cloud provider. Customers using cloud services never have to deal with the complexities of virtualization or infrastructure at all for that matter. If this scenario comes to play out, the cloud will eventually kill off the need for virtualization and most private infrastructure.
Of course, some of the reasons behind these different stances come from each company’s respective position in the industry. VMware is primarily a virtualization vendor, and it quite naturally has a very virtualization-oriented focus on IT. Microsoft, however, is running a distant second in the virtualization race and it doesn’t look like an area in which the company is ever going to win. At the same time, Microsoft has been in the online services business for more than a decade already, and it has several massive data centers around the globe. Microsoft is well positioned to provide cloud services, whereas VMware is not. In case you’re wondering how Microsoft differentiates between its Azure and Online Services cloud offerings, the Azure products, such as Windows Azure and SQL Azure, provide a platform on which you can build your own applications. In contrast, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online are ready-to-go services that you can subscribe to and use right away.
Businesses Approaching the Cloud with Caution
Will the cloud kill virtualization? From my perspective the answer is no—at least not in the foreseeable future. Businesses have had too many experiences with Internet connection failures, and stories of cloud outages from even the mighty cloud purveyors such as Google and Microsoft are way too common. Businesses are cautious and with good reason. That said, no business area changes faster than technology. In five years’ time, things could be different. Just as virtualization took time to mature into a production-ready technology, the same can probably be said about the cloud today.