by Kevin Fogarty

Users Should Be Cautious About Cost of ‘Free’ with Hyper-V

Jul 07, 20084 mins

Companies most likely to decide on Hyper-V for cost reasons are those most likely to be unprepared for the longer-term costs of virtualization.

Money’s always an interesting topicin the technology world. Everyone acknowledges it plays a big part in the decisions they make, but no one ever says it was the defining factor.

It’s always a secondary issue, behind interoperability, stability, support and all the other issues that go into a complex technology decision.

No smart IT person ever makes a product or vendor decision only based on the money involved. Even when the choice is between two products that are virtually identical, but for the price. It’s the tech specs that qualify both products for consideration, before the cost is able to skew opinion one way or another.

A lot of analysts are poo-pooing the role the very low cost of Hyper-V will have with customers who are deciding between it and VMware for virtual servers.

It’s the technical comparison that will make the difference, they say.

Certainly even users Microsoft enrolled in the publicity campaign accompanying the Hyper-V rollout said cost is not the main issue.

Chris Steffen, principal technical architect at Kroll Factual Data told me the real benefits were in how closely Hyper-V approximated the Windows Server environment he was already set up to support and how well the whole setup worked in his shop (which was flooded with Microsoft techs, linked directly to Microsoft OS developers and had top-level Microsoft product managers on speed dial). “We’re obviously not a typical case,” he says.

Performance, flexibility, scalability and security were big issues for Jonathan Wynn, manager of advanced technology and collaborative services at Del Monte, who also has VMware running in-house and is currently choosing between them.

Cost will play a significant role, he says. But not the primary one.

And that’s the issue, really. Cost will be one of the top issues for nearly ever company deciding between VMware and Microsoft for their virtualization. But it will be the primary cost for companies deciding between Microsoft virtualization and not being able to afford virtualization at all.

It may also be the deciding factor for companies trying to decide whether virtualization is right for them at all (a category that will disappear within five years, when virtualization becomes the norm, rather than an option in server-based computing).

In any list of pros and cons, if one of the pros is “and it won’t cost anything extra,” there will be a serious bias toward trying it. Maybe not moving forward with more sophisticated implementations like disaster recovery, automated failover and the like. But at least a little of the consolidation and cost savings.

What those companies may not realize is that once they virtualize anything, they’re on the way to being committed to virtualization. To make one virtual host work, they have to build or buy much of the same expertise it takes to make a dozen work, though they wouldn’t need the kinds of automated management tools whose absence is currently a screaming need among large-scale virtualization users.

And, as commenters on recent blogs attest, virtualization skills are a tad scarce these days. It’s a grow-your-own virtual world, and the companies that can barely afford free virtualization may find themselves in a position of relying on a technology they can’t afford to support.

Interesting conundrum. Try virtualization because it’s free and will save money? Or don’t try it because it’s free but costs a ton to learn how to support?

Money’s not going to be the deciding factor in most companies’ decisions about whether to go with Microsoft or VMware (or Citrix or Red Hat or HP or Marathon or anyone else) for virtualization.

But it will play a big part in the initial decision, and a bigger one in what happens after the implementation.

Microsoft is likely to scoop up a huge chunk of the small and medium-sized company market just because the cost of Hyper-V is so low compared to Hyper-V.

It will certainly land its share of larger companies as well, if only because it is devoting so much effort to handhold those companies.

But it will be interesting to see, during the next six months or so, how many companies get themselves into trouble underestimating the cost of “free.” It worked out well (eventually) with open-source products in many companies. It probably will with virtualization as well.

But the cost of free will certainly make the next big wave of adoption interesting to watch.