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Hypervisor Memory Management Done Right

Memory management in VMware vSphere

Sophisticated and effective memory management has always been a key strength of the ESX (and now, ESXi) hypervisor that powers VMware vSphere.  Back in 2001, when ESX first came out, 2GB was a lot of RAM in an x86 server, so it was essential for a hypervisor to economize on memory to deliver the server consolidation benefits customers were so eager to realize.  Back then, the big attraction of server virtualization was running several lightweight utility and test/dev servers in VMs on a single host and memory was usually the resource that limited consolidation ratios.  Today, x86 machines are pushing 1TB of RAM, but because our customers have now virtualized their most memory-hungry production database, messaging and application servers, memory resources are just as critical as ever.

ESX and ESXi have been able to keep up with these huge increases in memory demands because our hypervisor has always employed a multi-layered approach to memory management that delivers the most efficient memory management, best VM densities and lowest costs to our users.  The methods employed are detailed in an excellent VMware technical paper and I’ve summarize them below.

Let users provide critical VMs with guaranteed memory.  The memory “Shares” and “Reservation” settings let you prioritize memory allocated to each VM and reserve enough host RAM for the active working memory of each guest OS.

Efficiently reclaim memory from VMs when needed.  Simply carving off a VM’s full memory allocation from the host’s physical RAM is tremendously wasteful since VMs rarely use all their virtual RAM.  Instead, ESXi borrows or “reclaims” memory from less active VMs when it is needed by other VMs.  We use four techniques for memory reclamation:

  1. Transparent Page Sharing.  Think of it as de-duplication for your memory.  During periods of idle CPU activity, ESXi scans memory pages loaded by each VM to find matching pages that can be shared. The memory savings can be substantial, especially when the same OS or apps are loaded in multiple guests, as is the case with VDI.  Transparent Page Sharing has a negligible effect on performance (sometimes it evens improves guest performance) and users can tune ESXi parameters speed up scanning if desired.  Also, despite claims by our competitors, Transparent Page Sharing will in fact work with large memory pages in guests by breaking those pages into smaller sizes to enable page sharing when the host is under memory pressure.
  2. Guest Ballooning.  This is where ESXi achieves most of its memory reclamation.  When the ESXi hypervisor needs to provide more memory for VMs that are just powering on or getting busy, it asks the guest operating systems in other VMs to provide memory to a balloon process that runs in the guest as part of the VMware Tools.  ESXi can then loan that “ballooned” memory to the busy VMs.  The beauty of ballooning is that it’s the guest OS, not ESXi, that decides which processes or cache pages to swap out to free up memory for the balloon.  The guest, whether it’s Windows or Linux, is in a much better position than the ESXi hypervisor to decide which memory regions it can give up without impacting performance of key processes running in the VM.
  3. Hypervisor Swapping.  Any hypervisor that permits memory oversubscription must have a method to cope with periods of extreme pressure on memory resources.  Ballooning is the preferred way to reclaim memory from guests, but in the time it takes for guests to perform the in-guest swapping involved, other guests short on memory would experience freezes, so ESXi employs hypervisor swapping as a fast-acting method of last resort.  With this technique, ESXi swaps its memory pages containing mapped regions of VM memory to disk to free host memory.  Reaching the point where Hypervisor swapping is necessary will impact performance, but vSphere supports swapping to increasingly common solid state disks, which testing shows can cut the performance impact of swapping by a factor of five.
  4. Memory Compression.  To reduce the impact of hypervisor swapping, vSphere 4.1 introduced memory compression.  The idea is to delay the need to swap hypervisor pages by compressing the memory pages managed by ESXi – if two pages can be compressed to use only one page of physical RAM, that’s one less page that needs to be swapped.  Because the compression/decompression process is so much faster than disk access, performance is preserved.

What about “Dynamic Memory”?

The days of ESX being the only hypervisor that could support memory oversubscription are over now that Citrix and Microsoft have added a feature they both call “Dynamic Memory” to their products. But how effective is Dynamic Memory compared to the multi-layered memory management technologies in vSphere?  In both XenServer and Hyper-V, Dynamic Memory relies on just a single method – guest ballooning – to reclaim memory from guests when the hypervisor needs to find more memory for other VMs once physical RAM is fully allocated.  As we found when engineering ESX, ballooning is important, but it isn’t fast enough to cope with rapid spikes in memory needs or times when all your VMs are using their full memory allotment.  That’s why we designed ESX and ESXi with all four levels of memory reclamation technology, including the last resort safety net of hypervisor swapping, which is essential to avoid guest freezes when guests are all working hard and memory is under pressure.

Ballooning alone isn’t sufficient.  The Taneja Group took a look at XenServer 5.6 and its performance under conditions of memory oversubscription in their “Hypervisor Shootout” study of VM density. The results were striking.  XenServer 5.6 with Dynamic Memory was able to keep up with vSphere 4.1 VM density, but only when the guests were running a light load.  When the workload in the guests was increased, XenServer suffered, “a performance penalty that was surprisingly high and unfortunately consistent.”

Taneja_fig_10

Will the new “Dynamic Memory” feature Microsoft has added to Hyper-V R2 SP1 fare any better when memory is overcommitted and VMs are busy?  According to Microsoft, Dynamic Memory improves their VM density by 40% over the previous version that maxed out before memory could be overcommitted.  It’s an improvement, but it won’t be enough to catch up to vSphere 4.1, which showed in Taneja Group’s testing, “an overall VM density advantage of two-to-one.”  As seen in XenServer 5.6, reliance only on ballooning hits a wall when your VMs actually need all the virtual RAM you’ve allocated to them.  You can see signs of that effect in the painfully slow 2 second max response times in the VDI test Microsoft ran to justify their 40% improvement claim.  Apparently, entire Hyper-V R2
SP1 hosts can also find themselves frozen by memory shortages when Dynamic Memory is enabled.  Just as Microsoft has reluctantly come around to adopt the VMware way of doing things such as live migration and ballooning, perhaps we’ll see them grudgingly admit that hypervisor swapping and memory compression are essential to handle those times when memory pressure hits a peak.

Other Dynamic Memory Curiosities.  To permit many VMs to be packed onto a Hyper-V host, Microsoft has come up with a scheme where VMs are powered on with a low “Startup RAM” setting (512MB is recommended) and memory is then hot added as the guest needs it.  You can probably think of lots of reasons why this is a bad idea.  How about:

  • Hot-adding RAM to VMs will play havoc with system monitoring tools that will now see the memory allocations of VMs changing randomly – administrators can expect a barrage of “Low Memory” alarms.
  • Hyper-V Dynamic Memory will now only work with the latest versions of Windows that support hot add RAM.  Running older Windows 2003 service packs or Windows XP?  You’re out of luck.  Linux support isn’t even mentioned.
  • Since Microsoft hasn’t yet invented “hot remove” of RAM, Dynamic Memory can only ratchet up the RAM allocation of a VM.  Getting back to the “Startup RAM” setting will require a reboot of the VM.
  • Applications requiring more than the “Startup RAM” amount that perform a pre-check will fail immediately.  Microsoft’s own software installers run into this problem.  Microsoft’s workaround is to trick Hyper-V into hot adding memory to the VM by running MS Paint before starting the installation – I’m not kidding.
  • Microsoft has now added a whole new range of complications for software vendors to test and certify now that their apps must cope with suddenly changing amounts of memory.  Don’t expect your software vendor to support their product in a Hyper-V VM with Dynamic Memory enabled until they’ve done lots of recoding and testing.

With VMware vSphere, VMs look and act just like physical machines .  Any guest OSs and any apps or monitoring tools in the VMs see a consistent, fixed amount of installed RAM.  We thought it would be easier for everyone if we put the memory management intelligence into our hypervisor rather than relying on the guest OS to perform some unnatural acts to enable good VM density.

There’s no need to disable Windows security to get great VM density with vSphere

Lastly, I’d like to clear up some confusion on Microsoft’s part.  They’re claiming that VMware is telling customers to disable a security feature in Windows guests called Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) to improve VM density.  ASLR is intended to make things harder on malware writers by scrambling the locations of Windows processes in memory.  [Whether it’s meeting that goal is up for debate as Microsoft’s own security team has acknowledged that the bad guys have figured out how to bypass ASLR.]  ASLR makes it somewhat more difficult for the ESXi Transparent Page Sharing feature to de-duplicate memory, so you’d expect that turning it off would boost VM density in vSphere.  The Project Virtual Reality Check team confirmed in their September 2010 report that disabling ASLR produced a modest 16% improvement, but the authors clearly warned, “that Project VRC does not blindly recommend disabling ASLR. This is an important security feature.”  I thought the Project VRC findings were interesting and I mentioned them in a session I gave at VMworld 2010 Europe called, “Getting the best VM density from your virtualization platform.”  I also cautioned that disabling ASRL would reduce security and was best reserved for isolated testbeds where absolute maximum VM density was desired.  Here’s exactly how my slide put it:

ASLR

Note the “lessens security” warning.  Somehow the folks at Microsoft read that as a recommendation by VMware that our customers put themselves at risk to use our product.  Maybe they’re also the sort of people that see hot coffee as an unacceptable danger to society.  However, I think most would agree that the indignant posturing is just a way to distract users from the less than dynamic qualities of “Dynamic Memory.”

2010 – Another Great Year for VMware and Our Customers

The film industry awards season is just reaching its peak, but the software industry’s own Oscars for 2010 have been handed out and VMware finished up with another great year.  Here’s a sampling of the recognition VMware received from the IT trade press in 2010:

Those same members of the technical press had some very nice things to say about VMware and our products in 2010:

  • “Microsoft won’t come anywhere close to leapfrogging VMware in 2010” – Redmondmag.com
  • “VMware is in fact leaps and bounds ahead of competitors” – InfoWorld
  • “…the ESX feature set is substantially more mature…VMware remains the champ.” – InformationWeek

and my favorite…

  • “VMware is the king of virtualization. There is none higher.” – TechTarget

The analysts also directed much praise our way in 2010.  Gartner came out with their eagerly anticipated Magic Quadrant for x86 server virtualization and one look at the upper right corner of the chart would warm the heart of any IT manager who selected vSphere to be the foundation of his company’s virtualization and cloud efforts.  In December, I was in attendance at Gartner’s annual Data Center Conference where audience polls showed 87% of attendees were using VMware as their primary x86 virtual machine solution in 2010 – only 2% were using the nearest competitor.  Even better, when asked which virtualization provider they would be using in 2015, the Gartner attendees picked VMware by a 5:1 margin over the nearest alternative.

One thing our customers can find especially satisfying from this recognition is it points out how they made the right choice with VMware.  Whenever a customer invests in enterprise software, they want assurance that they will see steady improvements – big and small – in their chosen product.  In the case of VMware vSphere, our users have really won the lottery.  For almost ten years, each update and major release of our vSphere product family has rewarded our customers with improvements in performance and scalability as well as a steady stream of new capabilities – things like Storage vMotion, Fault Tolerance and Distributed Switches.  I imagine our early adopters who selected ESX or VMware Infrastructure are feeling pretty good about how their decision was rewarded.

But 2010 is behind us and we’re now focused on investments in upcoming waves of VMware products.  Our current customers and customers-to-be can feel assured that we’re working to keep up our pace of innovation (and recognition!) on into 2011 and beyond.

Virtualizing Exchange on VMware Provides More Recovery and Availability Options

We wanted to take a minute and respond to the recent blog post by the Microsoft Exchange team (Answering Exchange Virtualization Questions and Addressing Misleading VMware Guidance). In the post, Microsoft expresses concerns around particular VMware guidance for deploying Exchange Database Availability Groups (DAG) in conjunction with VMware HA.  We’d like to provide our perspective on this configuration and explain why it isn’t reckless (as Microsoft suggests), but all to the contrary can help our customers get greater value out of virtualizing Exchange.

The proposed solution consists of deploying Exchange DAG on a VMware vSphere cluster, and complementing DAG with VMware HA to maximize availability.

To clarify some of the apparent confusion on VMware HA in the Microsoft blog, VMware HA has nothing to do with VMotion or DRS.  VMware HA is a very simple mechanism that automatically reboots a failed virtual machine on any available host in the vSphere cluster in the case of a host failure.  From an application standpoint, the behavior of VMware HA is equivalent to a simple power-on of the machine on which the application is running.   It is completely transparent to the OS and the application.

In the physical world, when a DAG node fails, an admin will eventually power-on that node to restore the original availability protection.  VMware HA does exactly the same thing, but automatically.  Seems to us like that’s a pretty reasonable thing to do, and many of our customers agree and are happily using this in production.  Why?  For example, in a deployment with 2 database copies, if one of the DAG nodes were to go down due to a host failure, Exchange would be left ‘unprotected’ until the failed DAG node could be brought back up.  That could take quite a bit of time, relying on an administrator to detect the failure, and manually power on the failed node. VMware HA automatically takes care of that for you in the shortest time possible to restore the DAG availability protection.

Does this solution increase the cost of deploying Exchange?  No!  Compute requirements are unchanged, since VMware HA doesn’t rely on failover instances.   VMware HA also does not impact overall storage requirements.

Does this solution increase complexity?     Our customers think our solution makes Exchange a whole lot simpler.  When a DAG node fails, you no longer need to manually detect the failure and bring the node back up – VMware HA does that automatically.  And VMware HA doesn’t require any OS- or app-level configuration changes.

As to the support situation, we acknowledge that this is not an officially supported configuration under the Microsoft SVVP Program.  Should that stop all customers from using it?  Consider the following facts:

  • We have tested the configuration ourselves and haven’t seen any technical issues from powering on the DAG node VM automatically.
  • Customers are using this configuration in production with no technical issues.
  • Microsoft customers with a Premier Support agreement are entitled to reasonable support beyond specific SVVP-validated configurations.

In some cases customer needs can go beyond the vendor’s official support positions or guidelines.  In these situations, it’s up to the vendors to step up and meet those needs.  We’re extending an open offer to the Microsoft Exchange team to help them better understand, test, validate, and support this valuable solution!

Alex Fontana and Scott Salyer

(Original authors of the Exchange on VMware Best Practices and availability docs)

 

Setting Microsoft straight on the VMware-Novell OEM agreement

As you may already know, VMware recently announced an OEM agreement with Novell to redistribute SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) to eligible VMware vSphere customers. Just a few hours later (wow – that was quick), Microsoft published its take on the Microsoft Virtualization Team blog. Unfortunately, fast is not always a synonym of well-thought out. The arguments presented in the Microsoft blog not only miss the point about the announcement, but are so far off base that it makes one wonder whether Microsoft has learned anything about virtualization or is just trying to generate some headlines for headline’s sake.

In either case, given the level of marketing spin in the Microsoft blog post, I feel obliged to address the most blatant misinformation and set the record straight:

Myth #1: “Looks like VMWare finally determined that virtualization is a server OS feature. I’m sure we’ve said that once or twice over the years ;-)”

Our announcement is about providing SLES as a guest operating system (OS) and not as a hypervisor. Offering a more cost effective way to deploy SLES in VMware environments has nothing to do with the architecture of the hypervisor. Come on Microsoft – this is Virtualization 101 level stuff. VMware is committed to a hypervisor architecture that does not rely on a general purpose OS, unlike Hyper-V’s reliance on Windows, as it is a fundamentally better design that leads to higher reliability, robustness and security. This is why in our latest generation hypervisor architecture – VMware ESXi – we removed the console OS. Independent industry analysts agree that a slimmer hypervisor is the right approach – see “A Downside to Hyper-V”. We certainly don’t plan to reverse our direction, quite the opposite actually. As we publicly stated multiple times in the future ESXi will be the exclusive focus of VMware development efforts. Thanks to the ESXi hypervisor architecture, our customers won’t run the same risks they would have to face with Hyper-V.

Myth #2: “The vFolks in Palo Alto are further isolating themselves within the industry. Microsoft’s interop efforts have provided more choice and flexibility for customers, including our work with Novell.”

  1. VMware vSphere supports 65 guest operating systems versus Hyper-V R2 supporting only 17
  2. VMware vSphere supports more Microsoft operating systems than Microsoft Hyper-V R2 itself
  3. VMware vSphere supports 6 times more Linux operating systems than Hyper-V R2

Who is isolating itself? Who provides more choice?  Let’s not forget that just a few months ago Bob Muglia, President of Microsoft’s Servers and Tools business unit, stated that the number #3 top competitor for his division in 2010 is Linux! And just this past week at TechEd 2010, Steve Ballmer listed “Open Source” as a top competitor for Microsoft. How is it possible that on one hand Microsoft touts “new interoperability” with Linux and on the other one wants to kill it? Something has got to give and I think I know which one it will be….

Myth #3: “As one of many examples of our work with open source communities, we’re [Microsoft] adding functionality to the Linux Integration Services for Hyper-V. In fact, we have an RC version of the Linux Integration Services, which support Linux virtual machines with up to 4 virtual CPUs. In fact, we’ll talk more of this on June 25 at Red Hat Summit.”

VMware has a track record of providing equal support to Windows and Linux operating systems. We have supported 4 virtual CPUs for Windows and Linux guest OSs since 2006 and added 8-way vSMP in 2009. The OEM agreement with Novell doesn’t change our commitment to guest operating system neutrality. Positioning the Hyper-V’s upcoming support of 4 virtual CPUs for a small subset of Linux operating systems as a big win only confirms that 1) Microsoft is failing to keep up with VMware, and that 2) Microsoft has treated Linux guests as second class citizens. Is it credible that this second-class status for Linux will somehow change given that Linux and Open Source are being classified as top competitors?

Myth #4: “This is a bad deal for customers as they’re getting locked into an inflexible offer. Check out the terms and conditions. [..] So be sure not to drop support or you’ll invalidate your license”

So, before customers had to purchase SnS for VMware vSphere and a SLES subscription for patches and updates. With this new VMware-Novell agreement, they only have to purchase VMware SnS. Help me understand how this is a bad deal for customers? Talking about “invalidating” licenses in the context of a Linux operating system doesn’t make much sense given how the Linux licensing model works. The SLES deal offered by VMware is about subscription to patches and updates and not about licenses. Applying the same logic to Microsoft Software Assurance, we should warn customers that Microsoft SA is a bad deal because it locks them in an inflexible offer that forces them to pay in order to get the next Windows upgrade.

Myth #5: “Last, the vFolks have no public cloud offering, like Windows Azure, like Amazon EC2. While we’re demoing and building capabilities so customers have a common and flexible application and management model across on-premises and cloud computing, they’re stitching together virtual appliances to fill the void.”

Microsoft clearly “forgets” about VMware’s 1,000+ vCloud partners and public infrastructure as-a-service solutions based on VMware technology like vCloud Express . Our objective is to enable a broad partner ecosystem of service providers that leverage VMware’s technology to offer cloud services. This will give customers freedom of choice. We also want to make sure that companies retain control of their applications and are not locked in to any one particular service. Virtual appliances are a key component of this strategy, because that’s ultimately where the application lives. Microsoft isn’t interested in virtual appliances, because it isn’t interested in enabling application portability among cloud provider. Ultimately Microsoft’s strategy with Azure it to have customers run applications on Microsoft operating systems using Microsoft databases in Microsoft datacenters…. looks like the mother of all lock-ins.

Is Microsoft suffering from Hyper-Desperation R2?

Such an incredibly off-base reaction is clear evidence that the VMware-Novell OEM agreement struck a nerve at Microsoft. Could it be a sign of Hyper-Desperation R2? After all, the events of the past 2 months must have been pretty hard on the nerves of the Microsoft Virtualization Team:

  • On April 27th and May 19th , VMware announces new technology partnerships with two major cloud computing vendors, Salesforce.com (Salesforce.com and VMware Form Strategic Alliance to Launch VMforce™, the World’s First Enterprise Java Cloud) and Google (VMware to Collaborate with Google on Cloud Computing). This strategy offers far more choice to customers than Microsoft’s Azure-only approach
  • Then, on May 26th , Gartner publishes the 2010 x86 Server Virtualization Magic Quadrant, placing VMware in the “Leaders” quadrant, thereby demonstrating our clear leadership
  • Finally, just last week at Microsoft TechEd 2010 (one of Microsoft’s biggest shows of the year), VMware vSphere wins the “Best of TechEd 2010” award in the virtualization category and the “Best of TechEd Attendee’s Pick” awards. It must have been unsettling for the Microsoft virtualization team to see attendees at their own conference vote for VMware vSphere

But all of this aside, at the end of the day, what really matters is that VMware continues to show strong execution in our mission of simplifying IT and providing customers a pragmatic path to the cloud. Our agreement with Novell is another great example of how we’re delivering on our mission.

VMware vSphere Wins Best of Microsoft TechEd Attendee’s Pick Award

VMware has been exhibiting here at Microsoft TechEd 2010 and lots of VMware customers, plus those just starting the virtualization journey, have come by to talk to us – lots of questions about how to virtualize applications like Microsoft Exchange, SQL, and Sharepoint on VMware vSphere, how to implement an effective disaster recovery plan for their virtual Windows environment, and how to leverage VMware View for their Windows 7 migrations. But also, a lot of folks come by simply to say hello and share how well their Windows environments run on vSphere. Thanks to those who came by our booth this week.

I must confess though, that even after talking to all these customers, I did not fully understand how many satisfied VMware customers are here at Microsoft TechEd 2010… here’s what I mean.

Wednesday night, the VMware team attended the Best of TechEd awards ceremony because VMware vSphere was a finalist in the Virtualization category. We won that award last year (Best of TechEd 2009) and were anxiously waiting to see if we would win again this year. We were very excited when the judges announced VMware as the Virtualization category winner for Best of TechEd 2010.

Soon after, the final award of the night came up – the Best of TechEd Attendee’s Pick Award. This award is 100% based on votes from the 10,000+ TechEd attendees (my guess, as I haven’t seen an official number) – no judges involved. Attendees got to choose from among all the IT products exhibited at Microsoft TechEd, not just the virtualization ones, basically everything in the world of Windows IT. Given this context, we were thrilled when VMware was announced as the winner of the Best of TechEd 2010 Attendee’s Pick Award! Wow, to be chosen by the attendees from among all the IT products at TechEd, was just the latest testament of the value that vSphere delivers to customers.

There were no acceptance speeches at the awards ceremony (which was probably a wise decision by the folks at Windows IT Pro), but some thank-you’s are definitely in order. To the 25,000+ VMware channel partners, thanks for educating and helping customers implement vSphere to solve their most pressing datacenter needs. To the 35,000+ VMware Certified Professionals (VCPs), thanks for managing all of the vSphere installations so they run smoothly, and for being the resident experts in your respective companies, sharing with everyone the value of VMware. To the 1,500+ VMware technology partners, thanks for working with our engineering teams to build tight, robust integrations between our respective products. And finally, thanks to the thousands of VMware R&D engineers who built VMware vSphere – great job team.

Did Microsoft Just Say that VMware is More Profitable for Partners?

Sometimes, what one does not say, communicates a lot more than what one actually does say. That seemed to be the case last week when Microsoft released new collateral telling channel partners that they can achieve higher growth by selling Microsoft virtualization products alongside their existing VMware practices.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the blogosphere heard a different message:

Wow – talk about an unintentional message. Instead of Microsoft’s intended message, people picked up on Microsoft’s change in tactics from “sell Hyper-V because it can go head-to-head with VMware” to “why don’t you try selling Hyper-V in addition to VMware – we promise it will make you more money” (my paraphrase). To quote the Virtualization Review article, “While this is not tantamount to raising a white flag, it is a stark, public acknowledgement of VMware's deeply embedded pre-eminence.” Thanks Microsoft for reaffirming what VMware partners and customers have known all along.

Microsoft Tool: Partners Get Better Margins with VMware

But, unintentional messages aside, is there truth behind the claim that Microsoft virtualization products can make partners more money? To answer this question, I spent some time playing with Microsoft’s Excel model (the heart of the new Microsoft collateral) that compares the revenue and margins from selling VMware versus Microsoft.

First of all, Microsoft’s model states that partners generally make better margins by selling VMware (default assumptions in the Microsoft model).

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Microsoft Tool Assumes Up to a 2x Win Rate Advantage over VMware – Quite Unrealistic

But if that’s the case, what is Microsoft’s argument for how partners can make more money selling Microsoft virtualization over VMware? As Steve Kaplan points out on his blog, the two biggest assumptions in the Microsoft’s model are 1) a higher win rate (i.e. closing more deals) when leading with a Microsoft virtualization offering, and 2) “upsell capture” where customers purchase more software/ hardware/services with the money they supposedly save with a Microsoft offering. (There are a bunch of other default assumptions that disadvantage VMware, which I list at the end of this blog, but higher win rate and upsell capture have the biggest impact on the model’s output.)

So what does the tool assume regarding win rates? The default ‘mature market’ assumption is that leading with Microsoft virtualization offerings will win 33% more Large Enterprise deals and 100% more Mid-market deals (2x) compared to if the partner leads with VMware offerings, resulting in partners making more margin with Microsoft virtualization. Those are pretty bold, and frankly, unsubstantiated assumptions given VMware’s dominant position in Large Enterprises (96% of the Fortune 1000 are VMware customers), VMware’s strong traction with our mid-market offerings (Acceleration Kits, Essentials Editions), and the fact that customers get a more reliable, more complete, and lower cost-per-application solution with VMware.

Just how sensitive is the Microsoft tool to the win-rate assumption? Let’s find out by making two simple adjustments to win-rate. Let’s give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt with a higher win rate in mid-market (33% more deals), put us on parity in the Large Enterprise (same win rate), and leave in place the model’s assumption that customers will buy more hardware/software/services because of the money they save with Microsoft (an assumption that Steven Kaplan challenges in his blog, but that’s another discussion). Now the VMware practice makes $1,021,000 of margin at the end of Year 3 while the Microsoft practice makes $948,000 of margin – so the VMware practice now makes more money, even with a 33% higher win-rate assumption for Microsoft in mid-market!

Microsoft Tool’s Default Assumptions Are Just Not Credible

This simple exercise is revealing because it shows what partners would have to believe in order for Microsoft virtualization to make them more money, essentially, that customers would have to overwhelmingly choose Microsoft virtualization products over VMware by an incredibly higher, unsubstantiated rate, in spite of the fact that VMware delivers far more compelling benefits to customers:

  • a more reliable and robust product,
  • a more complete platform for virtualizing applications,
  • a more comprehensive set of virtualization management solutions,
  • more customer choice with broader OS, application, and hardware support,
  • a more proven solution as evidenced by customer adoption and return on investment, and
  • a lower cost-per-application – a key component of total cost of ownership for a virtual environment.

Now, I realize that there are many VARs and consultants out there that have built very successful, profitable businesses selling Microsoft products, so my point is not about any channel partner’s existing Microsoft practices. But I do take issue with Microsoft’s claim that selling Microsoft virtualization is more profitable than selling VMware based on their “model” – Microsoft’s assumptions to make their case are just not credible.

VMware Channel Partner Ecosystem: 25,000+ Partners and Growing

To close, here are some facts about the ecosystem of VMware partners:

  • VMware has over 25,000 channel partners worldwide and that number is growing.
  • For every $20k of VMware licenses sold, partners sell another $225k of hardware/software/ services. (VMware research, 2008)
  • 75%+ of VMware’s revenue comes from our channel partners.

As you can see, VMware and its channel partners have a strong win-win relationship.

If you are a VAR or consultant and currently not a VMware channel partner, we invite you to check out the VMware Partner Network website to get information about how to become one. Let us help you grow your business by selling VMware while delivering the most trusted, most complete, lowest cost-per-application solution to your customer.

A Few Other Default Assumptions in the Microsoft Tool to be Aware of

  • Default assumption charges VMware projects a 10% premium on hourly labor.
  • Default assumption is that VMware projects take 10% more engineering hours to complete.
  • Default assumption results in partners completing almost twice the number of Microsoft projects as VMware projects in the same period of time without adding any additional headcount. Not realistic at all.
  • Default assumption appears to use an inconsistent mix of list price and channel price for Microsoft and VMware products. (I could not figure out a consistent methodology to the numbers. If you figure it out, make a comment below.)
  • Default assumption adds the cost of vSphere Enterprise Plus licenses in one scenario without explaining why VMware’s highest-end SKU was required, and there’s no acknowledgement that Enterprise Plus delivers far more functionality than the Microsoft offering.
  • Default assumption adds the cost of VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) licenses, our disaster recovery product, to another scenario without adding anything to the Microsoft stack, in spite of the fact that Microsoft has nothing comparable to SRM.

VMware: Resting on Our Laurels? No Way! We’re Moving Forward Faster Than Ever.

One of the fun parts of my job is meeting with customers when they visit VMware’s Briefing Center here at our headquarters in Palo Alto, California – in the heart of Silicon Valley. The customers range from those who have used VMware for years and are now working towards the next step, towards a Private Cloud, as well as, those who are newer to virtualization and have begun server consolidation but are also starting to realize how a virtual datacenter can deliver so much more than just CapEx savings – open conversations to figure out how VMware can help the customer (further) reduce complexity, lower costs, and boost business agility.

In these customer meetings, a question that comes up from time to time is “We know you guys are the clear leaders today. How do you intend to maintain your leadership position moving forward?” A fair question, upon which I walk them through our overall business strategy to enable IT-as-a-Service through cloud computing, product roadmaps, and our competitive differentiation (most of which are captured on our Why Choose VMware and Advantages of VMware Virtualization web pages).

But if you read between the lines, their question is also about an attitude check – one that is often posed to industry leaders. It is a check to make sure that VMware’s success has not somehow made us complacent in regards to changing market dynamics or offerings from other vendors. Basically they are asking, “Are you guys resting on your laurels?” And the answer is “Absolutely not!”

Speaking from my experience working at VMware, I see as much (and very likely, more) ambition, drive, and energy now, as when I joined VMware three plus years ago. A survey of some of our announcements over the past year serves as good evidence of our aggressive drive to enabling IT-as-a-Service:

  • Release of vSphere 4, the latest major version of our flagship product that is the foundational virtualization platform for IT-as-a-Service, garnering a large stack of industry awards and recognitions over the past 12 months;
  • Release of View 4 with its new PCoIP protocol, the industry’s only purpose-built desktop virtualization solution for delivering desktop-as-a-service;
  • Acquisitions of SpringSource, Zimbra, and other companies to broaden the overall solution stack that VMware will offer to customers – from the platform to developer frameworks to cloud-ready applications;
  • Significant advancements in our vCloud initiative, such as having more than 1000 service provider partners in the VMware Virtualized service, including partners like AT&T, SAVVIS, Terremark, and Verizon Business.
  • Formation of vmforce.com, a strategic alliance between VMware and salesforce.com, to deliver a trusted cloud for enterprise Java developers;
  • Active collaboration with industry bodies like the DMTF to enable cloud computing standards and interfaces to maximize customer choice and flexibility in this next emerging era of computing;
  • And the list can go on…

Attitude is important. As our CEO Paul Maritz likes to remind us, “Beware the good times.” There is wisdom in that exhortation and echoes the sentiment from former Intel Chairman and CEO Andy Grove’s famous quote, “Only the paranoid survive.” Both men know what it takes to be and maintain leadership in the ever changing technology industry. From my view, there’s a healthy level of “paranoia” at VMware these days – the right level to continue (and extend) our leadership position.

VMware virtualization solutions for small medium business cost less and provide more value

Last week VMware announced very positive business results for the first quarter 2010, beating analyst expectations by a considerable margin. Needless to say, we are thrilled to see how customers continue to turn to VMware to reduce complexity, dramatically lower costs, and increase business agility.

In the earnings call, our execs also described how we saw strong momentum in our vSphere bundles for small and medium businesses (vSphere Essentials, vSphere Essentials Plus and vSphere Acceleration Kits). For some people, hearing this may be a bit of a surprise as other virtualization vendors have been trying to create the misconception that VMware’s virtualization is too expensive for small businesses. Microsoft, for example, claims that Hyper-V and System Center are 3x to 12x less expensive than the VMware’s Essentials bundles. Ultimately, nothing better than positive business results demonstrates how such claims are a misrepresentation of reality, but just in case, here is some simple math that proves it.

In the table below we compare the cost of software licenses and support to deploy a virtualization solution with centralized management and the ability to quick recovery from hardware failures. The size of the deployment is 3 virtualization hosts (2 CPUs per host) running 15 VMs total.

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As you can see from the table, VMware Essentials Plus is actually about $800 cheaper than a comparable offering from Microsoft even when only considering licensing cost and assuming equal consolidation ratios. While we believe that cost per application is a better approach to determine cost of acquisition for large and small/medium businesses, we wanted to debunk our competitor’s claim using their preferred methodology – upfront software license costs.

Price is certainly an important element of consideration for a small business; however it is not the only advantage that explains the momentum of the VMware Essentials bundles. Reliability, ease-of-use, unlimited technical support calls, and rapid recovery from unplanned hardware failure are also other very important ones. In the last couple of blogs (“VMware ESX to ESXi Upgrade Center – Check it Out!”, “Jumpstart a free virtual environment in a few clicks with VMware GO and ESXi”) we have talked about how and why VMware ESXi is a more reliable, robust and easy-to-use virtualization platform. VMware’s solutions for SMBs are based on the same core technology that the largest companies in the world use in their production environments — there just is not a more proven x86 virtualization platform out there. Why settle for less when you can afford to get the best? I guess many people have already figured this out.

In my next blog, I will discuss in greater detail the advantages that vSphere Essentials Plus offers for recovery and protection from hardware failures.

Jumpstart a free virtual environment in a few clicks with VMware GO and ESXi

In our last blog post, we discussed what motivated VMware to create ESXi and how its unique streamlined architecture, with no dependence on a general purpose operating system (Windows or Linux), makes it a more reliable, secure and efficient virtualization platform. These benefits are fundamental advantages of ESXi over other hypervisors, however there’s more. In fact, ESXi is also the ideal solution to quickly jumpstart a free virtual environment without a lot of pre-existing virtualization expertise.

The first key ingredient for jumpstarting a free virtual environment is a simple installation and set up process. The video linked below that the guys at GoVirtual.tv put together shows how installing ESXi is very straightforward and can be completed in a few minutes with basic system administration skills.

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While a simple installation process for a hypervisor is certainly important, it represents only the initial step towards the ultimate goal of migrating applications from physical servers to virtual machines and getting them up and running as rapidly and smoothly as possible. For most large companies these are now well established processes of datacenter operations, however for first time users or resource constrained small business they could still represent a roadblock towards virtualizing apps. To help remove this roadblock, in January 2010, VMware launched VMware GO – a free web service for SMBs to help them virtualize their physical servers on ESXi and have the new virtual machines up and running with just a few mouse clicks.

VMware GO eliminates the few manual operations still present in ESXi’s installation (like verifying the hardware compatibility list or burning a CD with ESXi’s image), provides everything needed to deploy VMs on ESXi hosts, and offers basic management and reporting capabilities. Here is a list of what VMware GO can do:

  • automatically check hardware for ESXi compatibility
  • download ESXi and burn installation CD
  • verify configuration of new ESXi installation
  • apply NTP settings
  • convert physical servers to virtual machines
  • create, delete and resize VMs
  • download and deploy virtual appliances from VMware’s Virtual Appliance Marketplace
  • open a remote console to a VM
  • scan ESXi hosts and VMs for patches
  • generate reports: ESXi host inventory, VM inventory, patch status

You can see VMware GO in action in this great video that Dave Davis at TRAINSIGNAL recorded (Dave’s video is based on the beta version of VMware GO, nevertheless it is a very good overview of actual capabilities).

The video clearly shows how VMware GO perfectly complements the already simple installation process of ESXi, making it extremely fast not only to set up the hypervisor, but also to deploy virtual machines and perform basic centralized management tasks – all for free! Keeping in mind the unique benefits of ESXi’s architecture discussed in our previous blog post, it is easy to see how by providing greater advantages in terms of reliability and ease of use than even Microsoft Hyper-V or Citrix XenServer VMware GO + ESXi is a better solution for first time users and budget constrained small businesses.

VMware ESX to ESXi Upgrade Center – Check it Out!

If you have not had a chance, I would definitely recommend you check out the recently launched “VMware ESX to ESXi Upgrade Center.” We launched this upgrade center to help customers and partners get comfortable with ESXi because we’ve stated on numerous occasions that in the future, ESXi will be the exclusive focus of VMware development efforts.

Why have we made this decision to move towards the ESXi architecture? Simply put, we wanted to improve hypervisor management in regards to security, deployment and configuration, and ongoing administration. You can read more about all the benefits at the Upgrade Center or ESXi product page, but as a quick snapshot, take a look at this graph of how ESXi reduces the number of patches compared to traditional ESX (over the same timeframe).

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It just goes to show you what removing the dependency on a general purpose OS in the virtualization layer can do for you. Goodbye patches for general purpose operating system code that wasn’t required for core virtualization functionality. (Although the console OS in traditional ESX serves a vastly different purpose than the Parent Partition in Hyper-V or Domain 0 in Xen, but that’s a whole separate discussion.)

As expected, not everyone agrees with our approach of reducing the role of a general purpose operating system in the virtualization layer. Just take a look at a Microsoft marketing brochure that proudly highlights how their virtualization layer is part of general purpose Windows. But it is very interesting how, once you talk to knowledgeable people outside of the Hyper-V marketing team, you find resoundingly consistent agreement that a smaller code base is the way to go for protecting your mission-critical virtualization layer.

  • From a leading virtualization security analyst’s blog (Feb 2010):
    “The lesson from all of this is that thinner is better from a security perspective and I’d argue that the x86 virtualization platforms that we are installing (ESX, Xen, Hyper-V and so on) are the most important x86 platforms in our data centers. That means patching this layer is paramount. With Hyper-V’s parent partition that means closely keeping an eye on Microsoft’s vulnerability announcements to see if it is affected.” (emphasis added)
  • From an article quoting another leading virtualization analyst (Nov 2009):
    “Problem two is a bigger, architectural problem that he was told about by R2 beta users. As he explains it, in a Hyper-V environment, every physical host has a copy of Windows that is used as the parent OS. It manages the I/O drivers and is home to any management agents that are installed. ‘If I want to use PowerShell, I’m also using the parent OS for that,’ he declares, ‘so what you end up with is one big, fat, single point of failure.’” (emphasis added)
  • Finally, let’s look at what a Director in the Microsoft Azure team said was a key design principle for Azure:
    “[Design Principle #2] Small footprint: any features not applicable to our specific cloud scenarios are removed. This guarantees that we do not have to worry about updating or fixing unnecessary code, meaning less churning or required reboots for the host.” (emphasis added)

Pretty good independent confirmation of our approach with ESXi.

So give ESXi a try if you’ve never done so. If you already own vSphere licenses, you have the option of deploying any of those licenses as either ESXi or as traditional ESX. If you don’t have vSphere, download ESXi for free.