Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hypervisor Star Wars

With the technobabble name of Hypervisor, I think that warrants a slightly science fiction post title, don't you?

Server virtualisation, which is achieved using one of the hypervisors on the market, is on the agenda of every CIO or CTO at the moment, whether that is for server consolidation or a grander move towards utility computing and the much vaunted cloud. So, I decided I would rub my twopenneth together and post where my thinking is at on this theme.

When I look at this sort of infrastructure technology I’m looking at the clarity of roadmap. Whatever decision a CIO/CTO makes, they’re going to live with it for probably about 5 years so when I’m reading about the big players (Microsoft Hyper-V, VMWare and Citrix XenServer), I’m not just trying to see who can do what now, but who is demonstrating thought leadership which will put them in good stead for the future.

Now, you don’t even need to go digging very far to analyse Microsoft Hyper-V… you just can’t rule it out. The biggest OS company in the world, and with many $billions sunk into datacentres that they need to start to build revenues off, they simply will not drop the ball on server virtualisation. You might as well value MS shares at mere cents if you do! Interestingly, they probably haven't the greatest feature set right now (they can't do real time migration), but they will architect their product really well so the features will arrive in due course and they will not be killed any time soon. Beyond that you can see how they will develop Hyper-V in the medium term. I can see an interesting triple play emerging with Hyper-V, Azure and all those datacentres.

That triple play brings us to VMWare. It took me far too long to get my head around why EMC bought them because I couldn’t see the synergy. Anyway, a month or two ago they announced a 3-way partnership between Cisco, VMWare and EMC called Acadia and all becomes clearer. This is really exciting. Not only can I buy virtualisation technology, but I can buy myself a private cloud. Aside from that (as if you need it), VMWare have good public domain information about their roadmaps and you can see how a client can go from legacy server infrastructure, through consolidation to private cloud and public cloud. They also have a very mature vision of what separation of logic and hardware can do for you and that sort of quality thinking will keep driving their product development.

Now with Citrix XenServer I see more uncertainty. With a Market Capitalisation of $7bn and profits of $150m, Citrix aren't, in my opinion, big enough or equipped with the right strategic partnerships to ride this wave to the next level. So, they will only exist if they are bought (in fact, I’d have thought that much of their MktCap is acquisition speculation) and until that happens, I wouldn’t make a 5 year investment decision on them. There are acquisition rumours, but it needs to be the right buyer. I don’t think Oracle would be the right buyer for me- I don't see any synergy as potent as that envisioned in Acadia for example. With all that, their tech may well be great but I’m not even going to look until there is that corporate stability.

A great book here is The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr. Treat yourself. It plots the future of utility computing out and takes it to places where really innovative companies are playing- like 3Tera (watch the demo on their website where you just build your infra in a Visio-style GUI). Yes, 3Tera is too bleeding edge for us in midsize corp for now, but it will pay to keep an eye on how their balance sheet develops.

A really exciting future no matter which mast you nail your colours to. The one true lesson we would all agree on is, don't do nothing.

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