VMware defends server virtualisation pricing

By Martin Courtney
15 Nov 2010 View Comments
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VMware has defended the pricing of its server virtualisation software, which some UK customers have complained is too expensive to license and support compared to Microsoft’s rival platform.

The company insists it has not given up on keeping or attracting small to medium enterprise (SME) customers, and that its ESX/ESXi hypervisor and vSphere virtualisation management platform still offer good value in comparison to the equivalent Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor and System Centre Virtual Machine Manager 2008 (SCVMM) package.

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“Hyper-V and ESX are technically similar but if you compare the retail price comparison of vSphere versus SCVMM, not including various discounts for different customers, the whole combination is less than a sixth of the cost,” Microsoft UK virtualisation manager Lucas Searle told Computing late last year. “Moreover, the cost of managing VMware is 24 per cent more expensive, particularly for large enterprises with thousands of servers.”

VMware senior product marketing manager Douglas Philips argues it is important to look beyond software licensing and support fees, and consider the overall cost of running virtual machines (VMs) within the datacentre or server farm as opposed to running individual applications on a virtual basis.

He estimates that VMware had 190,000 UK customers as of November 2010, around 80 per cent of which could be described as small businesses. And the vendor is making real efforts to pull in more with its Essentials Plus licensing model in 2011, scaling down vMotion live VM migration tool for smaller companies, and offering tools like fault tolerance which provide benefits for large and small organisations.

“We have plenty of customers saying the opposite [to Microsoft], those which have cut their server footprint in half compared to using Hyper-V,” he says, though none was available for interview at the time of writing. “The way VMware looks at cost of server and virtualisation licensing reflects the fact that VMware has a higher consolidation ratio – if you can run more VMs per physical server, there is less server cooling cost.”

VMware estimates than an Essentials Plus package containing ESX for three hosts including VMotion, high availability, the vCenter Server management tool (which centralises the management of multiple vSphere environments) and VDR backup software costs £3,500 excluding VAT.

“When compared to a Hyper-V solution you really need to add SCVMM, and Data Protection Manager (DPM) – which often require additional physical servers and of course licenses to run,” wrote an anonymous VMware proponent on Computing’s web site.

“Also, VMware provides direct telephone-based support for the price unlike MS who charge handsomely for the privilege. For enterprise customers, there are also features like storage I/O control (SIOC), vStorage arrays for array integration (VAAI), and Distributed Virtual switch which put Vmware light years ahead...hence the cost premium.”

VMware has long claimed that ESX Server supports a higher density of VMs on a single physical server, or cluster of ESX servers, because of its memory overcommit feature, which makes more RAM available to VMs than is actually present on the hardware itself. Microsoft has added a similar function, Hyper-V dynamic memory, to the release candidate of Windows Server 2008 R2 service pack 1 (SP1), but this is so far largely untested in real world deployments.

Philips highlights other VMware advantages over Microsoft, such as a simpler management interface and high availability (HA) features.

“VCenter provides a single plane of glass that provides visibility into the entire infrastructure. With SCVMM you have so many interfaces; SCVMM itself, the configuration manager, the operations manager and the command prompt all require their own servers, databases and training on how to use them,” he says.

“Microsoft has HA but no restart prioritisation for one server over another, which means you do not know what the first machine that comes back online is. It could be the domain controller and if it is every VM will back come online in a failed state.”

Philips says that VMware will run on physical infrastructure regardless of what operating system that application happens to be running on, whereas with Microsoft the option is to use cluster services specific to only certain apps, which is difficult and time consuming to set up, and beyond the expertise of most small businesses.

Lionel Wilson, head of IT at the Woodland Trust, which decommissioned its last VMware ESX Server in October, says that smaller organisations often struggle due to lack of specific virtualisation expertise, regardless of the vendor.

“We always had a certain level of expertise for VMware and if things got tough we had to get down and dirty with the code. If it pushed our level of knowledge, we had to go outside – but you get that with any system, despite what anyone tells you,” he says. 

Dan Bolton, technical analyst at Kingston University, is currently considering a full scale migration from VMware to Hyper-V, citing both cost and support complexities.

“When you upgrade VMware cluster you have to upgrade any server in that particular cluster, so we have tried to keep lots of small clusters as opposed to one big one. Hyper-V is much more flexible, even with a mish mash of [server] hardware, and runs quite smoothly,” he says.

“VMware also has high maintenance aspect in terms of regular patches for ESX, meaning we have to go through a rigorous testing phase which we do not have the human resource to perform.”

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