IBM may increase competition with VMware in near future

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IBM may have pioneered virtualization in the sixties, but it’s not a secret that it has no interest in dominating the modern x86 virtualization market.
So far, Big Blue has been happy enough to play the OEM role, distributing VMware platforms inside System x machines. And nobody will find hard to recognize that, compared to the HP and Dell efforts, the IBM commitment in this space has been less evident.

Behind the scene in fact, IBM perceives VMware and other x86 virtualization vendors as competitors which slow down the adoption of its PowerVM platform.

A good example of this comes from a paper released by the International Technology Group (ITG), which IBM often uses to prepare marketing papers, in April 2009: VALUE PROPOSITION FOR IBM POWER SYSTEMS – Comparing Costs of IBM PowerVM and x86 VMware for Enterprise Server Virtualization

ITG suggests that VMware virtualization is less secure and less performing than its own:

…One major difference is that PowerVM enables use of “hard” partitions, which provide greater partition isolation than software-based techniques such as VMware Virtual Machines. Firmware-based logical partitions (LPARs) reduce the potential for performance bottlenecks and contribute to higher levels of availability and security than may be realized with software-based partitions…

ITG also suggests that customers don’t deploy mission critical applications on VMware platforms, and that when they do, the applications serve a rather small user base:

…VMware is most commonly employed for what are, by Power server standards, comparatively light-duty applications and workloads. Where databases are employed, these are typically small, non-critical or both. This is also the case for business applications.

There are some installations of SAP, PeopleSoft and other mainstream ERP systems on VMware.
However, these are typically small and often involve development and test instances, or collaborative modules offered for these suites rather than transactional systems. Oracle, for example, does not support VMware for SAP production environments…

The best part of the paper of course come with the cost comparison, where ITG claims that IBM PowerVM has IT costs ranged from 23% to 49% less, and averaged 34% less than those for VMware equivalents over a 5-years period:

IBMPower_vs_VMwareESXSimilarly, ITG claims that IBM PowerVM has a cost of downtime ranged from 59% to 77% less, and averaged 72% less than those for VMware equivalents.

Obviously the paper doesn’t even contemplate the obvious fact that over 90% of worldwide virtual machines are powered by Windows, and that IBM doesn’t support Windows guests on PowerVM.
The customer that wants to use the Power platform has to face the cost of dropping all its Windows applications and adopt *nix counterparts. This massive cost is not considered in the paper.

IBM may want to become more aggressive as soon as its upcoming Power7 architecture will be released (some times during Q1 2010).
The company is in fact highlighting that this new platform will offer two to three times the performance of its predecessor for the same energy (albeit it’s unlikely it will support Windows anytime soon).

But while IBM is increasingly targeting VMware, another company is targeting IBM: Oracle, which just received the OK from European Commission to close the acquisition of Sun, and can’t wait to tell the world its plans to use the SPARC architecture and the Solaris operating system.