When I prepared the LearnKey virtualization course, I had to look very deep into VMware. In the process, two things became clear: the enterprise-class features of VMware are amazing and Hyper-V is better than I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong. I really liked Hyper-V before, but after mastering the VMware solutions, which I had only implemented in smaller organizations before this time, it became clear that Hyper-V is positioned to be a strong competitor.
You’ll read a lot of articles and blogs stating that Hyper-V is not really free and they are right when referencing the version that comes with Windows Server 2008; however, they don’t bother to point out that even though you have to buy Windows Server 2008, it is still frequently cheaper than VMware ESX 3.5. Additionally, the Windows Server 2008 installation that runs Hyper-V can also run many other things. It can act as a native SQL Server, Exchange server, DNS server, DHCP server, remote access server, VPN endpoint, router, Terminal Services server, and more. It can do all this, if sufficiently powerful, while still running two or more virtual servers in addition to the parent partition (the original install of Windows Server 2008 before enabling Hyper-V). For a true VMware versus Hyper-V comparison, this fact must be considered.
Can any current commercial deployment of VMware do this other than VMWare workstation? The answer is no, at least not without hacking the service console. Yes, you can run all of these services in virtual machines, but this is not the same thing. The parent partition runs faster than the other VMs – at least in my tests.
In my tests, running a Windows Server 2008 server with native DNS, DHCP and file and print in the parent partition while running a virtual server for SQL Server 2005 Standard Edition and another virtual server for Exchange Server 2003 Standard Edition outperformed ESX 3.5 on the exact same hardware using three virtual machines (one for the DNS, DHCP and file and print and two others for SQL Server and Exchange Server respectively). Why? Because the infrastructure services – DNS and DHCP – and the file and print services are in the parent partition without the massive bloat of a full extra virtual machine or an increased hypervisor size (VMware’s hypervisor is about 32 megabytes while Hyper-V’s is about 260-270 kilobytes).
Now, I know someone is going to say, “Wait a minute Tom. You need to compare apples to apples.” I believe I am. My VMware and Hyper-V comparison is based on the following premise: VMware ESX 3.5 cannot run extra services in the management partition while Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V can. To me, this is a huge comparison point. I work with many small businesses that need to do exactly that. For the cost, I can give them a Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V deployment for about half the license fee of a VMware deployment at the same performance level.
In large enterprises, I won’t even begin to compare the two. VMware’s SAN, failover and centralized management features (even though they require a Window machine to operate) are way ahead of what Microsoft is doing with Hyper-v (though this may change with Hyper-V R2). In small businesses, I really see Hyper-V as the winner. Of course, there is always the exception: the small business that wants a free solution with absolutely no centralized management. In that case, VMware ESXi wins hands down in my book. Of course, this VMware and Hyper-V comparison is based on the available solutions now. We’ll have to see how Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 stacks up. Most people don’t even know about this completely free standalone version of Hyper-V server.
The truth: only time will tell. Can Microsoft beat VMware at their own game? Not in the next few years, but we’ll see about the next decade. Microsoft is, in my opinion, losing ground in a lot of areas; however, I see big progress in two arenas: database servers and virtualization. I’ll keep watching.