Small Business Virtualization: Part 1 – Licensing

VMware and Microsoft approach the Small to Medium companies quite differently, but which product to buy often depends on your business needs vs cost of the products. However, there needs to be at least one major distinction: SMB vs SME.

The Small to Medium Business (SMB) is quite a bit different than the growing number of Small to Medium Enterprises (SME), and VMware knows this does Microsoft or Citrix?

SMB vs SME does it matter? In a nutshell yes it does. The feature requirements for virtualization and cloud products are distinctly different. The major difference is that the SMB is not an IT centric shop requiring 24/7 availability of core IT services. An SME on the other hand includes IT as part of the business and invests accordingly as well as maintains a 24/7 availability. In essence, the difference is the mindset and how much appetite for downtime exists within the organization.

This appetite for downtime will govern the required feature set for any virtual environment. If there is very little appetite for downtime, then look at High Availability, live migration capabilities (Citrix XenMotion, VMware vMotion, or Hyper-V Live Migration) for virtual machines, and perhaps hot migration of a VM from one storage device to another. With the ability to have downtime after hours, these features may not be required.

So what options exist for to satisfy an SMB or SME?

  • Citrix XenServer or Open Source Xen
  • Microsoft Hyper-V which ships with every version of Windows Server 2008.
  • RedHat Virtualization based on KVM or Open Source KVM
  • VMware vSphere Essentials or Essentials Plus (depending on appetite for downtime)
  • VMware vSphere Standard or Advanced (depending on the number of virtual environment hosts required and appetite for downtime)

One key issue for an SMB/SME is manageability, without the ability to easily manage the virtual environment which often rules out many of the Open Source products. This implies use of Microsoft System Center, VMware vCenter, XenCenter, or VirtManager. Microsoft System Center able to manage more than one product (HyperV, vSphere, or XenServer) using third party plugins. VirtManager can also manage more than one product (Xen, KVM) while the others are limited in scope. But which is the proper product for the SMB/SME?

What confuses this issue even more is the fact that most SMB/SME organizations run predominantly Microsoft Windows physical or virtual machines. While the SME may purchase a Enterprise Volume License for Windows, others may just opt to purchase Datacenter or even individual licenses. As such, licensing becomes a very large issue with respect to virtualization and Microsoft and other products. Some third party products still license by core in use (such as Oracle) regardless of how many virtual CPUs are assigned to a VM. But there is little clarity and consistency between vendors, so licensing continues to be a major issue.

For the SMB going with Microsoft Hyper-V may be the best approach. If you want or need availability higher end services are required that are available at higher license levels of Citrix XenServer and VMware vSphere or other third party tools to make these available with Hyper-V. Yet Hyper-V offers a set of virtualisation services that will cater for a number of use cases and due to the fact that it doesn’t require extra licenses, or a different core OS to be managed Hyper-V is increasingly seen as a preferable option.

So how are the vendors marketing to the SMB and SME? Microsoft is relying on Microsoft Windows Server 2008R2 to do it for them as its built in and available. VMware has changed it’s licensing once more to allow more upgrades from the limited vSphere Essentials products to higher levels, as well as moving vMotion functionality down to the Essentials Plus package. Which makes Essentials Plus with vMotion and HA a viable alternative for SMEs. Citrix and Microsoft have always had Live Migration at their lowest levels but you need to jump at least one level in packaging to gain High Availability.  But as we’ve discussed, not all SMBs want or need High Availability but this is required by the SME.

So all things being equal, functional similarities exist, not at the lowest license level of licensing, but one step above for nearly all the hypervisor vendors. But the catch is how to license the VMs you are using. In this, Microsoft has the advantage over all the others unless you happen to run mostly non-Microsoft operating systems within your SMB or SME virtual environment.

Some things just do not change.

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