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Is the Hypervisor Truly a Commodity?

Level 11

In the past few years, there has been a lot of conversation around the “hypervisor becoming a commodity." It has been said that the underlying virtualization engines, whether they be ESXi, Hyper-V, KVM etc. are essentially insignificant, stressing the importance of the management and automation tools that sit on top of them.

These statements do hold some truthfulness: in its basic form, the hypervisor simply runs a virtual machine. As long as end-users have the performance they need, there's nothing else to worry about. In truth, though, the three major hypervisors on the market today (ESXi, Hyper-V, KVM) do this, and they do it well, so I can see how the “hypervisor becoming a commodity” works in these cases. But to SysAdmins, the people managing everything behind the VM, the commoditized hypervisor theory isn't bought quite so easily.

When we think about the word commodity in terms of IT, it’s usually defined as a product or service that is indistinguishable to it’s competitors, except for maybe price. With that said, if the hypervisors were a commodity, we shouldn’t care what hypervisor our applications are running on. We should see no difference between the VMs that are sitting inside an ESXi cluster or a Hyper-V cluster. In fact, in order to be commodity, these VMs should be able to migrate between hypervisors. The fact is that VMs today are not interchangeable between hypervisors, at least not without changing their underlying anatomy. While it is possible to migrate between hypervisors, the fact of the matter is that there is a process that we have to follow, including configurations, disks, etc. The files that make up that VM are all proprietary to the hypervisor they are running on and cannot simply be migrated and run by another hypervisor in their native forms.

Also, we stressed earlier the importance of the management tools that lie above the hypervisor, and how the hypervisor didn’t matter as much as the management tools did. This is partly true. The management and automation tools put in place are the heart of our virtual infrastructures, but the problem is that these management tools often create a divide in the features they support on different hypervisors. Take, for instance, a storage array providing support for VVOLs, VMware’s answer to per-vm-based policy storage provisioning. This is a standard that allows us to completely change the way we deploy storage, eliminating LUNs and making VMs and their disk first-class citizens on their subsequent storage arrays. That said, these are storage arrays that are connected to ESXi hosts, not Hyper-V hosts.  Another example, this time in favor of Microsoft, is in the hybrid cloud space. With Azure stack coming down the pipe, organizations will be able to easily deploy and deliver services from their own data centers, but with azure-like agility. The VMware solution, which is similar, involving vCloud Air and vCloud Connector, is simply not at the same level as Azure when it comes to simplicity, in my opinion. They are two very different feature-sets that are only available on their respective hypervisors.

So with all that, is the hypervisor a commodity?  My take: No! While all the major hypervisors on the market today do one thing – virtualize x86 instructions and provide abstraction to the VMs running on top of them - there are simply two many discrepancies between the compatible 3rd-party tools, features, and products that manage these hypervisors for me to call them commoditized. So I’ll leave you with a few questions. Do you think the hypervisor is a commodity?  When/if the hypervisor fully becomes a commodity, what do you foresee our virtual environments looking like? Single or multi-hypervisor? Looking forward to your comments.

17 Comments
Level 20

I don't see them as a commodity yet... We use primarily vCloud Suite and now NSX.  Our storage fits in nicely as well.  I'm not sure you can say the tools from other vendors and open source community are up to the level of the VMware solution... yet!  As better tools evolve and we eventually get to a toolset that can really manage all of the hypervisors in the same way I can't say it's really commodity yet the way x86 servers are.  I'd like to see openstack and the other projects around it get the point VMware is at and have enough people with the ability to support it but it's just not there yet.

I really like this topic though... I'm not sorry to say I'm glad we have vCloud and NSX for now... maybe someday I could say I could feel comfortable using another solution but not yet.

MVP
MVP

I see it as a tool to produce/support a commodity...not an actual commodity in itself.

I agree ecklerwr1​. I do not see them as a commodity yet. Besides, there is too much volatility and growth in this market to obtain a comfort level for commodity status...if that makes any sense. Not that I ma much of a business-minded IT guy but I see this market as a 800 yard dash, not a sprint and not exactly a pacer, to claim total market share and dominate. VMware has the lead right now but it hasn't been crowned champion yet.

Level 20

I agree... my problem with some of the open source solutions and openstack is when you are running your most important apps on them... what do you do when something doesn't work or a patch breaks everything... post in a newgroup or dig through wiki's or worse the source on git looking for commit comments?

Level 8

I wouldn't call the hypervisor a commodity yet, especially due to products such as Openstack that take the magic out of the hypervisor. The competition between products is also contributing to this as it makes it more likely that there will be more choices to pick from to deploy with in the future. 

I don't see it as a commodity.   Except, perhaps, for the largest networks.  For Google, their equivalent of a Hypervisor may well be a commodity.  Order a spare thousand or two and distribute them across your infrastructure so someone can virtually or physically swap them or add more at need.

Or maybe they have a great many "spare" hypervisors already online, ready to accept load transferred to them as other hypervisors fail.

Following your definition / example ( . . . commodity is usually defined as a product or service that is indistinguishable to it’s competitors . . .and in order to be commodity these VMs should essentially be able to migrate between hypervisors.  The fact is though VMs today are not interchangeable between hypervisors . . .) hypervisors cannot be thought of as a commodity.

When companies like Google started buying/building pizza-box servers, that's when I started thinking of servers as a commodity item.  Buy a lot of them after setting forth a physical design and capacity standard they must meet, get a huge discount for the bulk purchase, and use them for replacing failed units or to grow your services as needed.

We have something less than 2000 servers; I don't think of Hypervisors as commodity items yet for our environment.

Hypervisor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Level 8

Perhaps I'll give a contrary view.  When considering infrastructure and security architecture as a whole (my skillset), the hypervisor is assumed, as opposed to specified - this makes it a commodity from my perspective.  I generally recommend most - not all - services are virtualised, but what hypervisor they are running on, is largely determined by what environment the customer has currently, is skilled in, or can afford.

This is particularly relevant when looking at hybrid environments, which are becoming increasingly frequent in my line of work.  Do you (or I) "care" what hypervisor AWS, Azure, Google etc are running ? Nope - the end customer just wants flexibility, scalability, performance etc (with a recognition that cloud services aren't generally cheaper than on-prem).

Perhaps this is more a question of your perspective - if you're maintaining the virtualisation environment, you obviously care about how it performs and operates.  From a business services view, the end user (or developer) doesn't care - they just want the service - at which point the virtualisation engine could be considered to be commodity.

My 2 pence (cents)

Level 20

exactly... the servers are the commodity. :^}

Level 11

I'm in the same boat as all of you!  I'm keeping an open mind towards everything - even Hyper-V   But that said I have too much time invested in "learning ESXi" to consider switching at this time - thus, not commodity

Also I find a lot of hypervisor selection is also political or reliant on past experiences - "We looked at Hyper-V five years ago and it was such a pain to setup".  I hear this statement a lot - you really need to get the current version of everything to get a true comparison. 

Level 11

Well...unless you start to compare iLO and iDRAC

Level 11

I see projects such as OpenStack driving the "commodity-van" in terms of the hypervisor!  But in my opinion OS is still a big risk - for me anyways...

Level 11

All great points and so true - users do not care what hypervisor their applications are running on - and thus further, application owners might not care what hypervisors their cloud services are running on....

So it is a commodity in that sense, but isn't in others...

A true IT consultant answer right?  It depends! 

Level 14

Not a commodity, just a tool.

Level 14

I agree with the others.  Not really a commodity.  You have to have the real commodity first...the servers.

MVP
MVP

Kind of like metric versus standard bolts on cars.  Owners don't care at all one way or another but the mechanics who have to fix them need to be equipped correctly for the job. 

Level 11

Agreed, not a commodity.

Level 21

For anybody that might think the Hypervisor is a commodity, I think Microsoft (assuming they play their cards right) stands to shake the very foundation of how we view a hypervisor.  With the push for Azure Stack they are creating a true hybrid design that will allow seamless movement of workloads from private cloud environments directly into Azure.  We have been working with Microsoft on this for a while and the technology is very awesome!