Veritas Storage Foundation for Windows Looks to make Server Virtualization a Two-Horse Race

The million (or maybe billion) dollar question that companies are asking as they look at the server virtualization market is which platform to place their bets on: VMware or Microsoft Hyper-V Server R2. VMware has streaked out to an early lead while Hyper-V Server has left many enterprise organizations asking for more. But don’t count Microsoft out quite yet as Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 is just around the corner.

As part of its new features, it contains a new Live Migration feature that enables failover between different physical Hyper-V hosts plus Microsoft is being more open about third party access to Hyper-V’s parent. This is enabling companies like Symantec to introduce new functionality into the Hyper-V parent that promises to make server virtualization in the enterprise space much more of a two-horse race than many may anticipate right now.

Make no mistake. VMware is clearly sitting in the driver’s seat when it comes to delivering what organizations want right now from server virtualization. But that does not mean VMware is making all of the right moves when it comes to enterprise computing and is, in the process, leaving the door open for Microsoft and its partners to take advantage of this faux pas.

Possibly one of the biggest areas where VMware is still leaving itself exposed is in its inability to deliver the high performance and availability functions that enterprises want for all guest operating systems hosted by an ESX server. While VMware ESX supports path management features like multi-pathing and path failover at the hypervisor level, extending that functionality up to individual guest VMs on the ESX server is difficult to say the least. Then even if it is introduced, it imposes severe limitations on how well the administrators can manage the specific VMs that are afforded this functionality.

Server virtualization solutions that use a file-based approach to path and storage management create a level of abstraction that can become too great to practically manage. Since the hypervisor presents a virtual HBA or HBAs to the guest virtual machine (VM), the guest VM cannot know exactly what physical Fibre Channel host bus adapter (FC HBA) that it is using. As a result, the configuration becomes too complicated to deliver much more than rudimentary path management functionality to the VM, if it can be delivered at all.

Even in situations where Veritas Storage Foundation for Windows (SFW) is installed on a guest (or on child if a Microsoft Hyper-V platform), the best that organizations can currently hope to deliver to the VM is multi-pathing or path failover which is only possible when done in conjunction with using the iSCSI protocol over Ethernet. This fails to take into account that many enterprise organizations are attaching their VMware servers to Fibre Channel (FC) SANs. As a result, they cannot deliver advanced path management features such multi-pathing or all load balancing all the way to the guests in these FC environments.

This is where those organizations that leverage Microsoft Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V and install SFW 5.1 at the parent level (Microsoft’s name for Hyper-V’s equivalent to the hypervisor) are going to find a solution that is still unavailable on VMware ESX. By moving SFW into the Hyper-V parent, organizations can now extend all of the benefits that SFW currently provides to individual physical hosts, such as online storage management, dynamic re-layout of volumes, DMP (Symantec’s multi-pathing software that provides load balancing and path failover), FlashSnap and Veritas Volume Replicator (VVR), to all child VMs of a parent Hyper-V. In so doing, this combination of Microsoft Hyper-V and SFW makes one of the strongest arguments yet for using Microsoft Hyper-V rather than VMware as the enterprise platform of choice to virtualize application servers.

Enterprise organizations have not yet bet the farm on VMware because of exact issues such as this: VMware still sometimes refuses to play nice with other software companies while Microsoft is finding that by partnering with Symantec (a sometimes competitor in the past), it is able to go head-to-head with VMware and deliver a better enterprise offering.

By allowing Symantec to extend its SFW support for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 into the Hyper-V Server parent, not only does this solve a very real issue that exists in enterprise virtualized server environments, but it gives Microsoft Hyper-V a decided edge over VMware where concerns like this exist. In an upcoming blog, I’ll take a look at some of the other new features and functionality that SFW provides at the Hyper-V parent level and why these features become so appealing to enterprise organizations.

Part 2 in this three part series examines how moving Storage Foundation for Windows into the Hyper-V parent provides enhanced path and storage management functionality for Hyper-V child VMs.

Part 3 in this three part series examines how moving Storage Foundation for Windows into the Hyper-V parent addresses some current issues around thinly provisioned volumes as well as how Symantec keeps the licensing for Storage Foundation for Windows attractive.

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