Open-source virtualization: Who's biting?

Cost is a big motivator, and so is the ability to tweak the software

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But before going with open-source virtualization, it's important to have a staff with the right Linux/Unix background, recommends Richard Cote, systems architect and technical lead at the University of Massachusetts.

"If I were making a decision at a small company that only had Windows-savvy tech administrators I'd probably look at VMware or HyperV if I did not have a Linux or Unix group to support me. If you come from a traditional Unix-savvy staff then you're going to be drawn toward Xen," Cote says.

Small businesses may find much to like

Server virtualization growth is expected to increase in small- to mid-size businesses, and there, too, open source could gain a foothold.

Gartner classifies small business as companies with 20 to 99 employees and less than $50 million in revenue. Mid-size companies have 100 to 999 employees and $50 to $500 million in revenue. "We expect the [SMB] growth rate for virtualization adoption to be higher than the overall market through 2012," Dayley says.

And even companies that are using VMware and/or Microsoft's HyperV may still find a place for open source.

Interactive One, a New York-based division of Radio One, provides Web properties for millions of African Americans and has split its IT infrastructure in two. Its office environment uses VMware to run Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and Windows File Server. On the production side, to power the Web sites, the company has deployed Oracle VM.

[Managing multiple virtualization suppliers can be problematic, users and analysts say.]

"We weren't a good candidate for VMware's advanced functionality because these boxes aren't mission critical, single-point-of-failure systems," says Nicholas Tang, Interactive One's vice president of technical operations. "As a result, we don't do a lot of VM-level clustering and automated failover."

After discussing the possibility of using VMware for the firm's production environment, Tang's assessment was simple: "VMware doesn't do any better job than Xen does for . . . quickly building a virtual environment and efficiently reallocating resources. VMware cost two or three times more than what we paid for Oracle VM, and in the end it wasn't worth it."

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Interactive One uses VMware for some servers and Oracle VM for its customers' Web sites, says Nicholas Tang, vice president of technical operations.

Since using Oracle VM, Tang says, he's retired 60 servers, has realized greater utilization of resources and is using open-source tools like Fedora's Cobbler, a network installation tool, and other software like cfengine, a configuration management tool, to build more functionality into the company's virtual server environment.

While analysts continue to speculate, and vendors continue to improve their products, in the end, IT managers will have to make up their minds based on their needs.

"Customers have to do the tests, ask themselves will it work in their IT environment and will it meet their business requirements at the right price and with the right skills," LAO's Yazhemsky says.

Nicole Lewis is a technology and business writer. She can be reached at lewis_nicole@bellsouth.net.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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