Where Will the Hypervisors Be in Five Years?

By on 05/29/2012.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately.  I keep coming back to an idea I theorized a year or so ago, where eventually, as x86 servers have now become, hypervisors themselves will eventually become a commodity.  The theory extends around the idea that as we continue to abstract further up the stack, the hypervisors get thinner and lighter, and are there to serve a single purpose.  This introduces all sorts of questions and theorycrafting about what managing an infrastructure will look like 5 years from now.

Let’s take VMware ESX/i for example.  In the beginning, the hypervisor was everything.  As recently as 2007, pre-Virtualcenter, everything revolved around the ESX instance.  Now, everything revolves around vCenter, and even that is becoming somewhat of a centrally-managed abstraction of entities itself, and will eventually include multiple sites, vCloud Director cells, etc.  We continue to innovate up-stack, and pull away from the foundations.

RHEV/KVM.  As a linux base, they are an easy target, because you could argue that they started where ESX/i eventually has landed.  Very thin, light install/config for a hypervisor host, but the inverse is that their management center still needs some boning up.  Sure, it gets the job done, but is it anywhere near as elegant as vCenter?  Arguably no, and of course that’s a subjective opinion from a mildly biased VMware-centric opinion.  Shout out to Jon Benedict, aka captainkvm.com.  If you’re at all interested in RHEV and how it stacks up against the others, you should definitely check out his blog.

Citrix Xenserver.  Again, I would echo a lot of the same sentiments here as I did for RHEV/KVM.  Xen is definitely more mature and has a wider user-base, especially in the VDI space (XenDesktop), but they haven’t gotten quite to where VMware is.  Of course a lot of the MetaFrame and termsvcs transplants are going to be biased towards Citrix, because a lot of their external tooling is likely citrix-centric, but for the most part, we’re still seeing < 10% market share for each of these two.

Hyper-V.  The Dark Horse.  Watch out, VMware.  I want to remind everybody of something that happened in the late-80’s, early-90’s.   Remember the Macintosh?  Revolutionized personal computing, right?  Then this Bill Gates guy came along and made a very elegant, very integrated (for it’s time) GUI, and all but knocked the wind out of Apple’s sails.  It wasn’t until Jobs and NEXT were acquired by Apple around Y2K, and the iPod started the New Age of consumer-hippie (myself included) that make up the ~10% market share that MacOSX now has today.  If you want some fun, check out market share numbers of OSX vs. Windows vs. iOS.  @Storagezilla mentioned something the other day that “…the PC war is over, and iOS has won.”  Well put, Mark.

With that said, I think what we’re about to witness in 2013 is something similar.  If you haven’t checked out what the culmination of Windows 8 + Hyper-V 3.0 + SMB 3.0 looks like, all managed in the familiar interface of System Center, you should.  It’s compelling.  Windows 8 hits in Nov 2012.  H-V 3.0 is out, and SMB 2.2 is out.  For the past few years, VMware has owned this space, with 90%-ish market share.  However, I believe they’ve plateau’ed, to an extent, and are now reaching horizontally into the “enterprise consumer” spaces, with things like Zimbra, Octopus, Horizon, SlideRocket, vFabric, etc.  But if you look at “growth” and “new installation” type sectors, you’ll see Hyper-V getting roughly 70% of those numbers.  This is not unexpected.  As VI3 grew into vSphere, they also saw and enjoyed massive growth numbers.  Is it really a surprise that “virtualize the datacenter” has only now, in 2012, made it into the Top 10 of IDC’s “CIO Initiatives” survey?  Frankly, I’m surprised it has taken this long, but certainly glad to see it there, regardless.

What am I getting at here?  I love VMware.  I love Microsoft.  I love RedHat.  I love Citrix.   I love all of them for different reasons, NONE of which is any of their hypervisors.  See where I’m going?   As far as I know, System Center is the only one with a plugin that can manage non-MS products, such as VMware VM’s.  I also heard that with Windows 8, you’re going to be able to dynamically add and remove the entire GUI.  So being able to use the GUI to deploy, get everything updated and installed, and when it’s ready for production/operations, dropping it down to a Server Core instance.  All with a couple of powershell commands.  Whoa.

Fanboys will rule the day.  Whatever your admin is educated in is likely the hypervisor that your company will lean towards.  It’s becoming a commodity.  Why do I need to go out and license vSphere, et al, is I’ve already got a hypervisor in Hyper-V?  And if the promise of Windows 8 + SMB 3.0 lives up, it’s my belief we’re going to see some transitions.

Do I see VMware managing Hyper-V instances anytime soon?  Nope.  They’re quite clearly the two giants in the room.  I realize the assertions I’m making here are controversial.  I do so in an effort to get people to pay attention to what is taking place in the industry.

  • What do you think VMware needs to do to maintain their relevance 5 years from now in the datacenter?
  • Is the consumerization of the enterprise the right way to go?
  • Do you agree/disagree with the hypervisor commoditization we’re starting to see?
  • Is the old Type1/Type2, hard/soft, baremetal hypervisor still a worthy conversation? Or a moot point at this stage?
  • What’s your favorite/preferred hypervisor and why?

Let me know in the comments!

-Nick

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