Virtualization technologies compared

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For true Enterprise-ready virtualization, you can't beat Xen or VMware ESX. They are robust, easy to use, well supported, well documented and ready to go to work for you. Hypervisor technology is absolutely the right decision if you need to virtualize multiple operating systems on one host system. They are both costly solutions but well worth the price you pay for the performance you receive. You should use this technology in situations where disk I/O is of major concern.

As to which one of the hypervisor technologies we prefer, we're afraid that we can't answer that for you. Either one you choose will serve you well.

Solaris Zones (containers), and any jail-type virtualization, works extremely well for Unix host systems where you want a consistent and secure environment with native performance. Kernel-level virtualization is extremely well suited for isolating applications from each other and the global zone (host operating system). This type of virtualization is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to get acquainted with virtualization for no money, little hassle, and ease of use. We highly recommend this virtualization method for your Solaris 10 systems.

Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware Server are great choices for testing new applications, services, patches, service packs and much more. We use Virtual PC and VMware Server on a daily basis and can't live without them. We wouldn't recommend either for heavy production or enterprise use, but for smaller environments, desktops or IT laboratories, you can't go wrong with these. They're free, easy to use, durable and can host a wide range of guest operating systems. In this same arena, Sun's xVM is also very good.

VMware Server and Sun xVM are both available on multiple platforms, whereas Virtual PC is available only for Windows.

We deliberately left out several other virtualization products from this dialog. Either we've had less experience with them or less good experience with them than the others mentioned previously, and we don't want to keep you from investigating them on your own. We are not diminishing their value or importance for viable virtualization solutions, but we just don't feel qualified to speak for or against them in this context.

Summary

This was an overview of virtualization technology from a vendor-neutral perspective. There is always the question of which virtualization software is best. There is no single correct answer to this question unless it is either emotionally based or prejudicial in some way.

All virtualization software does the same thing: virtualize physical machines and the services that they provide. You'll have to decide what you need from virtualization and then choose the best technology that fits that need -- and worry about vendor specifics later. You may also use more than one virtualization solution to solve the various needs within your network.

If you're going to invest thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, in virtualization, you need to experience the software for yourself. Vendors know this and are willing to work with you. Many offer full versions for a trial period. If a trial version won't work for you, get in touch with the vendor and get the actual licensed software for evaluation.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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