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A brief architecture overview of VMware ESX, XEN and MS Viridian

If you are new to the virtualization arena, still trying to understand what it all means, or just want a fresh perspective on things, check out the latest posting from Massimo ReFerre from IBM where he dives in to the water in hopes of explaining the technical differences between VMware ESX Server, Xen and Microsoft's Viridian products.  It is definitely worth the read.  He writes:

It is my feeling that there has been a bit of confusion lately around how hypervisors are being positioned by the various vendors. I am specifically referring to the three major technologies that seem to be the most relevant strategically going forward:

  • VMware ESX
  • Microsoft Viridian
  • Xen

VMware ESX is the VMware flagship hypervisor product: it's the basis for the Virtual Infrastructure version 3 framework.

MS Viridian is the next generation hypervisor that Microsoft is going to use in the Longhorn time frame and that is currently being developed. It's basically the successor of Microsoft Virtual Server.

Xen is an opensource hypervisor that is being integrated by a number of players which include RedHat, Suse, XenSource and Virtual Iron.

All these vendors (VMware, Microsoft, RedHat, Suse, XenSource, Virtual Iron) are pitching their own virtualization solutions as being the optimal implementation. I don't want to discuss this in the very details because it would require a pervasive understanding of the very low level technologies required to design these products (which I don't have) but I would rather try to go through a very high level analysis to either demystify or (try to) clarify some of the points. I have in fact had a chance to participate to some events hosted by these various vendors and it appears to me they are using some high-level facts at their own convenience to try to demonstrate their design is better than others'. Which is fair and obvious.

There are three major areas of confusion for us "human beings" trying to determine which approach and which solution makes more sense. These areas are:

  1. The architectural implementation of the hypervisor: this includes discussions like "my hypervisor is thinner than yours" etc etc.
  2. The hardware assists (Intel-VT, AMD-V) dilemma: "my hypervisor uses cpu hardware extensions to do what you do in software so it's faster than yours" or viceversa.
  3. The paravirtualization dilemma: "my hypervisor can support this modified guest hence it's (or it will be) faster than yours" etc etc.

Let's try to dig into all three.

Read the entire post, here.

Published Wednesday, June 20, 2007 6:09 AM by David Marshall
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