Beyond VMware: Virtualization Options Compared

When most people think of Virtualization, they might think of Microsoft but I’d be willing to bet that they think of VMware. In fact, there may be many out there who don’t know that there are other virtualization products besides VMware’s solutions. While VMware has excellent Virtualization products, I think it is important to know that there are other choices available. In this article, you will learn what those other virtualization options are, where you can find them, and how they might help you.

Virtualization Companies

I started off my gathering my list of virtualization options then I did research on the Internet to find others. What I came up with was this list of Virtualization companies:

  • VMware
  • Microsoft
  • VirtualIRON
  • Xen

Keep in mind that we are talking about SERVER virtualization here and, specifically, doing it on x86 processors. I say this because, if you just type in virtualization on, you will find that there are a multitude of types of virtualization and from many different companies. For example, you can perform network virtualization, storage virtualization, or server virtualization with your IBM PowerPC system using IBM software. I left all of these types of virtualization out of this mix.

Next, I took those companies, researched their virtualization options, and broke them down into different grades of products in terms of their intended use. For example, some products were designed to perform . Some company’s only make one product and it could be also used on your desktop for for workstation-grade virtualization.

Workstation-Grade Virtualization Options

  • Microsoft Virtual PC 2007FREE – recently released and replacing Virtual 2PC 2004, VPC 2007 is an excellent choice for running another OS on your desktop system. VPC is simple to use and offers limited options for shapshots and testing changes to virtual systems.
  • VMware Workstation$189 – VMware workstation has been around much longer than VPC and offers more flexibility for different operating systems and snapshoting versions of virtual systems. VMware Workstation does, however, come with a price tag whereas VPC does not. If you are using VMware Server or ESX, VMware Workstation is the best option to test desktop apps, then bring them into the server farm.
  • VMware PlayerFREE – VMware Player is free application that can be used to distribute virtual machines to others who don’t have a licensed copy of VMware Workstation. Think of it being similar to VMware Workstation but you are only able to RUN or PLAY virtual machines. It is a unique tool in this space.
  • Xen ExpressFREE – Xen Express is the free starter package for IT developers and IT professionals who want to try Xen. The completely unique thing about Xen when compared to the other products in this workstation-grade category is that Xen is a has no underlying operating system, only the hypervisor. Because of the hypervisor, it is safe to say that Xen Express offers more performance any the other products in this category but one negative is that you must do away with your more familiar underlying operating system. Xen is based on an open-source standard and Xen Express offers upgradeability to Xen Enterprise.

Server-Grade Virtualization Options

  • Microsoft Virtual ServerFREE – – MS VS is a FREE server-grade virtualization application. It runs on top of the Windows Server OS. It is planned to be integrated into the next version of the Windows Server OS , Longhorn. There are limited tools available for Virtual Server. A new centralized management tool is available from Microsoft called Virtual Server Center.
  • VMware ServerFREE – VMware Server is a FREE server-grade virtualization application. It can run on top of LINUX, Windows Server or XP. Unlike VMware Workstation, it has limited snapshot functionality. It does have great portability of VMs with VMware ESX Server. It also has Virtual Center integration so that you can have centralized management of all your VMware Server systems.
  • Xen Server$99 Annually – runs on a modified Linux hypervisor that allows you to run other virtual operating systems underneath it. The Server version of Xen runs Windows servers, only not Linux. Again, like Xen Express, Xen Server sets itself apart from the other products in this server-grade category by being the only product that has no underlying operating system, only the hypervisor. Xen is based on an open-source standard and Xen Server offers upgradeability to Xen Enterprise.

Enterprise-Grade Virtualization Options

Both of these virtualization options listed as “enterprise-grade” are just that for the following reasons:

  1. They don’t have a customized underlying operating system that is tailored to virtualization.
  2. Because of how they are designed, the are higher performance and allow you to run more virtual machines per server, when compared to the server-grade virtualization options listed above.
  3. These solutions offer high availability features that use your underlying SAN, not only for storage of virtual systems, but also for other high availability functions.
  • VirtualIRONabout $500 per CPU socket, or about $1000 for a dual-CPU server – VirtualIRON even includes some of the Enterprise features that VMware ESX does not include for the standard edition price listed below (for example, LiveMigration from VirtualIRON vs VMware ESX Vmotion)
  • VMware ESXabout $3000 for a dual-CPU server per server (for the standard edition with no support) – – comes in 3 packages, starter, standard, and enterprise.
  • Xen Enterprise$500 per year per dual socket server or $750 one-time – Runs its own Hypervisor at the underlying virtual machine monitor layer, offers high end performance, and multi-server management included, includes free Linux P2V converter and Windows P2V starter kit, expected to offer live migration and shared storage of virtual servers in mid-2007, and based on an open source standard.

In summary, there are a lot of virtualization options to choose from, depending on your needs and your budget. Server Virtualization is booming in popularity and there is good reason for that. Virtualization can reduce your time spent on administration, your dollars spent on hardware, and increase your uptime and response time. Before you choose a vendor based on the reputation of their name brand, make sure you evaluate and test all the different virtualization options available. While Microsoft and VMware make some valid virtualization choices, they are NOT your only choices.