Is Hardware Still Commoditized?

by Chris Josephes

Last week I attended a virtualization seminar. I did not expect a lot from the event at first, but I was surprised by the qualities of the guest speakers. Both had strong backgrounds with VM environments, and they did a good job of explaining what it takes to migrate to VM.

One of the speakers made an interesting statement, saying that the hypervisor is now commoditized. The market for virtual solutions has gotten so big, it's unavoidable. VMWare has ESX, Xen has their system, and Microsoft is coming out with Hyper-V. If everybody offers what is essentially the same thing, then how do these products stand out from one another?

Now your incentives for buying virtualization have changed. You don't buy VMWare just because it offers virtualization; you buy VMWare because it has the best service, and the best hot migration features. You might buy Hyper-V because your familiar with Microsoft internal APIs and management tools. On top of virtualization, I'm not sure what else Xen has to offer, but there could be new features coming out from Citrix.

When I left the seminar, I started to re-evaluate hardware decisions that were made in the past. The nature of the beast has changed. Eight years ago, hardware decisions were taken for granted, because it too, was commoditized.

Everything runs on an x86, and everyone makes an x86, so the low price usually won out. Anything that the vendor offers on top of the low price might have clinched the deal. Better support, better service, free shipping? Whatever it took to sell a server and get it out the door. Hundreds of IT departments packed data centers full of tight 1ru servers. Virtualization has now made those servers worthless.

When a single server failed, it was no big deal. You probably had another one just like it running the same application. If that same server is now running multiple virtual hosts, then the service impact is higher. Two machines may now be fighting for access to the same mirrored local disks. What are the chances that they're impacting each other?

If your server can only handle 2 running virtual hosts, then you cut hardware costs by 50%; but in order to win, your hardware savings still need to be higher than the support and licensing costs of your enterprise VM solution. A 2 to 1 hardware savings ratio isn't good. it's expected. In order to maximize your investment, you should aim for a 4 to 1 hardware savings ratio, maybe higher

Migrating to a VM environment does not mean building a VM solution into your servers; it means building your servers around a VM solution. If the hypervisor really is treated like a commodity, then the same can no longer be said about the hardware.

7 Comments

lavaman
2008-03-21 08:53:12
"On top of virtualization, I’m not sure what else Xen has to offer, but there could be new features coming out from Citrix."


Since when is being open source not a feature? Also, no vendor lock-in like the other two.

Simon Hibbs
2008-03-21 09:18:51
There's a nother way to see it. The minimum number of cores your servers come with is now two. In a year or so it will be four. How many of your server applications are efficiently multithreaded? VMs are a great way to extract value from those commodity cores.


Server failure is certainly an issue, but this supports your point about premium features, such as automatic migration of instances to another server, being an important market differentiator.

Chris Josephes
2008-03-21 09:55:39
Since when is being open source not a feature?


Open source is a feature, but it's probably a more appealing feature for a developer, instead of an IT administrator that doesn't have the time or resources to program.


Both Xen and VMWare have APIs, and they both have external development communities that use those APIs. But the VMWare API is considered to be more mature.

Chris Tyler
2008-03-23 23:05:44
"Open source is a feature, but it's probably a more appealing feature for a developer, instead of an IT administrator that doesn't have the time or resources to program."


Interesting point -- but more and more, I've become convinced that open source is a critical feature not just for developers but for anyone buying support, because it levels the playing field for competition between support providers.


When dealing with a proprietary product, only those with the source code (usually only the software vendor) can provide first-class support, and any other support provider must rely on the vendor for bug fixes. This is true whether the support provider is a local consultant or the services arm of a multinational IT company.


Open source changes that: all support providers are able to fix critical issues, including security and performance problems. The support provider can't pass the buck: they must come through and fix the problem or they loose the contract. Open source enables true competition between support providers and opens up real options for IT administrators, even those that don't "have the time or resources to program".

Chris Josephes
2008-03-24 08:57:55
Interesting point -- but more and more, I've become convinced that open source is a critical feature not just for developers but for anyone buying support, because it levels the playing field for competition between support providers.


Why would it level the playing field? Even with the source code, it would take time for an outsider to go back through the code and figure out what the original programmer intended. There are companies that will do support of Xen, but it usually revolves around their own release.


Either way, I think the arguments about the merits of Xen rely on their finished product. Open Source can be a benefit, but it still doesn't mean much if VMWare is still considered the more stable, enterprise product.

Fred Clausen
2008-03-26 02:50:12
"Either way, I think the arguments about the merits of Xen rely on their finished product. Open Source can be a benefit, but it still doesn't mean much if VMWare is still considered the more stable, enterprise product. "


There are arguments either way but some will always choose open source software if it meets their minimum requirements - regardless if there is a more stable, enterprise product. That said - support and enterprise add-ons for Xen can always be purchased at a later stage.

SImon
2008-07-10 08:20:16
I would really like to read somewhere about hardware backup problems and considerations as to the Virtualization itself. What are the dangers, how one can minimize them and what are the current trends on the market.