Real Hyper-V vs. vSphere comparison Part II: What you really pay for

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There's no virtualization product available totally for free, as costs are always involved with any IT product. Purchasing costs (CAPEX) may be the most obvious, but there are a number of seemingly hidden costs like operational costs (OPEX). And there is even a lost opportunity cost (the value of the best alternative forgone) as the economics expert like to call it.

I want to draw your attention to some more of the hidden expenses I didn't cover in my first cost comparison of running a virtual infrastructure. Those costs in addition to what we discussed before need to be examined carefully before committing to a product.

Can you compare based on features alone?

Unfortunately, in this case you cannot compare apples to apples. The two offerings are very different in nature and the different products you can buy differ in capabilities. A thin layer hypervisor with a size in megabytes is not the same as a complete OS with a footprint of more than 10 GB. A Hyper-V host at the end of the day involves a Windows installation that will require more patching and a lot more effort to maintain. This translates into more operational costs like administration time and more security risks to consider.

In addition, feature comparison tables do not really give a complete picture and will drown you in information. Although Hyper-V 3 now supports live virtual machines migration, it is five times slower and limited to two VMs. By default, live migrations are configured per host to only two. This means that it will take you much more time to evacuate a host for maintenance than with VMware vMotion. This makes scheduling a maintenance task much harder.

The difference in virtual memory management supported with other features makes it possible to have between 20 and 50 percent more VMs on the same physical host when using vSphere compared to Hyper-V (proven in tests conducted by third parties). This translates directly to a reduction in the cost of purchasing physical servers, and indirectly results in a reduction of the power, cooling, management and rack space costs, all of which are important operational costs to consider.

Beyond the specs

Moreover, there are important details that you do not see listed in feature comparison tables that will affect the way you manage and use the product. For example, one of the downsides of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 is that you need to stop a running VM before you can export or clone it, while in all paid versions of vSphere this has always been possible. In production environments, stopping the company website for 30 minutes to take a clone is not an option, especially when the company website is used for online sales!

Storage IO Control is one of the features that I really love in vSphere that Hyper-V cannot yet offer. SOIC is an important feature that helps throttle utilization of storage resources by less important VMs. Not having an alternative to SIOC may mean an extra investment in the storage backend to compensate for the wasted resources on less important VMs. This investment is a cost that needs to be calculated to accurately compare products.

What about configuration maximums?

As an enterprise or large business, you should not care much about what the product can do on paper; your concern should be what you can make the product do for you. VMs with 64 virtual CPU cores or with 1 TB of vRAM aren't deployed every day, and definitely not for every application. Actually, the best practice is to always create VMs with only one core and only add more if you can prove it's needed. In addition, although a theoretical limit on the number of VMs per host may reach 500, in practice you do not see something like this in production for many reasons.

It is only useful to consider configuration maximums, when you are likely to reach them. Here, the most important question should be, “Can the solution (not just the product) scale to support such high numbers?” One may question the value of dedicating an entire host to one huge VM. At that point, maybe deploying the system on a physical host with something like clustering for high availability would make much more sense.

Both vendors have good reasons for racing to make things bigger to accommodate more use cases and applications, but I blame the technical media who make it look like bigger is always better. Bigger may be better in different areas, but I like my VMs as lean as possible. A smaller VM is easier to migrate, faster to clone and will use resources more efficiently.

There is also the case of different bundling:

While Virtual Machine Manager is only sold as part of System Center, VMware vCenter is a dedicated product to virtualization management. Buying System Center may give you more capabilities in different areas with tools like Operations Manager and Configuration Manager, while the different versions of vSphere will give you more capabilities to manage your virtual infrastructure.

On the other hand, VMware started to bundle vSphere with VMware vCenter Operations Manager to “provide a simple, visual and holistic view of the entire environment,” and to add integrated capacity planning. Claiming that the VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite can help customers nearly double the operational savings they receive from VMware vSphere.

VMware has included VMware Orchestrator with every vCenter installation and is providing an alternative to deploy it as pre-built virtual appliance. VMware also provides a great free backup product, Virtual Data Protection (VDP), that is effective, and to manage.

VMware also included a vSphere Enterprise Plus license in the vCloud Suite. The standard Suite also includes vCloud Director, vCloud Connector which enables you to migrate VMs between private and public clouds, and some networking and security capabilities.

You also need to consider the cost of support. Hyper-V comes with little support unless you pay extra for Premium support or want to pay per hour for support.

VMware has been traditionally the favorite for enterprises, but can they compete in SMB markets?

Considering that Microsoft has a one-size-fits-all approach and VMware has different editions for different business sizes, I would defiantly say VMware has a more attractive offering for smaller business called VMware vSphere Essentials Plus.

VMware vSphere Essentials Plus costs only $4,500 to license a three-host cluster (not including support), while to use Microsoft System Center 2012 for managing a three-host Hyper-V cluster you'll pay $10,821 because you need to buy the System Center package. That makes System Center even more expensive than the vSphere Standard edition as licensing three hosts will then cost only $7,761.

It should be clear to any SMB that VMware vSphere Essentials Plus offers more value than Microsoft System Center 2012 on CAPEX costs alone, even before considering the different operational costs or the superiority of either product.

One may claim that System Center provides more as it includes Operations Manager, Data Protection Manager. But in reality, VMware does include free extras like vCOPs Manager, VMware Data Protection and VMware Orchestrator with the Essentials Plus edition. Also, VMWare offers SMBs the ability to enjoy the benefits of shared storage even if they don't have shared storage hardware. Microsoft has nothing equal to VMware Storage Appliance.

The future is full of possibilities

Microsoft is playing catchup so fast and is significantly improving its products with each release, but VMware is not standing still. The advancement in vSphere and the different VMware products are very significant although at some times it looks like VMware does not have marketing power to match Microsoft.

The main reason I prefer vSphere to Hyper-V is the difference in the two approaches:

Microsoft wants virtualization, cloud, and data center management to be an extension of the infrastructure, whereas VMware has developed a complete infrastructure management specialized and dedicated to today's technical and business needs.

I have full confidence in VMware's vision, but I'd also keep an open eye on Microsoft's offering. Although I work with a VMware partner offering and managing virtualization and cloud solutions based on VMware products, I am also a Charter MCSA in both Microsoft Private Cloud and Server Infrastructure. What do you find works best for your infrastructure?

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Ashraf Al-Dabbas

Ashraf Al-Dabbas is a vExpert, VCP, 3xMCSE, MCITP, CCNP, ITIL v3 Certified and an MBA holder. He has 10+ years of diverse experience working in a large organizations in systems infrastructure support, leading corporate wide IT initiatives, organizing and conduction projects and social activities.

For Ashraf, IT is a passion not a profession. He is self-motivated, persistent and full of positive attitude. Exploring new technologies, learning new knowledge, visiting new places and meeting new people are the things that drive him forward. He likes to write, share ideas and interact with different people. As part of his upbringing in the Jubilee School for gifted students (Amman, Jordan), Ashraf learned to understand, accept then debate all points of view objectively and respectfully.