The world of virtualization is definitely evolving. As businesses become more cloud-oriented and with the looming Broadcom merger, many are considering VMware alternatives for running their private cloud infrastructure. This post will consider the factors behind a shift in direction and the top VMware alternatives in 2023.
Table of contents
- Why look at VMware alternatives?
- Is it easy to switch from VMware to a VMware alternative?
- 1) XCP-ng: Citrix hypervisor for free
- 2) Proxmox VE: Gaining traction
- 3) Hyper-V: the old Microsoft standby
- 4) Linux KVM: vanilla Linux virtualization
- 5) Cloud IaaS and Kubernetes: Agile and Scalable Virtual Resources
- Other solutions to mention
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why look at VMware alternatives?
Many organizations are looking at potential VMware alternatives for their private cloud solution. Most companies are no longer content with one-size-fits-all solutions.
To level set, we aren’t referring to desktop virtualization solutions like VMware Workstation with alternatives like Virtual Box, rather enterprise solutions.
For years now, VMware vSphere has been the dominant player in on-premises private cloud virtualization. However, the buyout by Broadcom and the growing popularity of cloud infrastructure is making organizations think about different types of solutions for running their on-prem clouds.
There is much uncertainty about the future of VMware with the buyout and any potential price hikes that will be soon to come after the deal closes.
Don’t get me wrong. I love VMware and VMware products to be honest, and have been using it for almost two decades now in the enterprise and extensively run this in my home lab environment. If you want the best hypervisor on the planet and the smoothest experience for high availability and business-continuity, VMware vSphere is it. But, I do think a shift is happening, and it is good to keep your options open and know what is available.
Is it easy to switch from VMware to a VMware alternative?
Switching to a VMware alternative is not trivial. It will require careful planning and technical know-how to execute. Also, there are the skills that most have banked up over the years with VMware solutions that will need to be shifted to the knowledge of a new platform.
What are the top solutions to consider?
1) XCP-ng: Citrix hypervisor for free
XCP-ng is another very worthy virtualization platform built on top of the Citrix hypervisor. It offers a high-performance, open-source alternative to VMware.
XCP-ng provides many features as a server virtualization platform that is free to use and open-source. I think XCP-ng is architected from a management perspective very similarly to VMware vCenter Server and ESXi. You have Xen Orchestra (its version of vCenter) you can run, which provides additional management capabilities.
Below, you can deploy the Xen Orchestra appliance by visiting the XCP-ng host IP address and deploying the appliance.
XCP-ng live migration, encryption and VMware import
XCP-ng also sports live migration capabilities to provide the flexibility to move VMs around, even during server migrations. This feature I think is a must-have for those moving from VMware with their operations. The ability to migrate virtual machines on the fly, without interrupting their operation, is a characteristic of virtualization that most now rely on.
It also has many great security features, including encrypted virtual machines, support for TPM devices, etc.
There is also a VMware migration tool built into the Xen Orchestra interface, which is a native tool to move VMs from VMware to the XCP-ng platform.
Read my write ups on XCP-ng here:
- XCP-ng: Home Server Build with Citrix Hypervisor
- XCP-ng Beta New XO Lite Web Interface
- XCP-ng Management: Download Xen Orchestra VM
2) Proxmox VE: Gaining traction
Proxmox VE is an open-source virtualization platform that has been gaining traction, especially in home lab communities. However, it also is a great VMware alternative. Businesses can also purchase enterprise support
However, unlike VMware ESXi, Proxmox VE is free to run with all the enterprise features enabled, minus support. With Proxmox you can run virtual machines, create host clusters, use shared storage, live migrate virtual machines, have a free backup solution in Proxmox Backup Server, and many other features and capabilities.
Proxmox Virtualization and Containers
Proxmox uses kernel-based virtual machine for running VMs and LXC container technology, making it able to run both VM and containerized workloads. You can also use Docker on the host directly or using a Docker host virtual machine.
Check out my comparison here of Proxmox vs VMware ESXi here: Proxmox vs ESXi – ultimate comparison.
3) Hyper-V: the old Microsoft standby
Hyper-V has long been Microsoft’s virtualization product, and it has become a staple in the virtualization space as a direct VMware competitor. Microsoft has recently evolved Hyper-V into Azure Stack HCI that is managed from the cloud but exists on-premises.
It allows users to create virtual machines running Windows on x86-64 systems. Hyper-V provides seamless integration with Windows Server and client operating systems with the Integration tools built into the Windows OS.
However, I think Hyper-V may not be as desirable for many looking to move away from VMware due to the direction Microsoft is headed with Hyper-V. It seems like the traditional Hyper-V is a dead product. There is no longer a Hyper-V Server starting in Windows Server 2022 and Azure Stack HCI seems to be the model that Microsoft is headed there.
Nonetheless, many have strong ties with Microsoft and already have Datacenter licensing perhaps that lends itself to running VMs and containerized workloads.
4) Linux KVM: vanilla Linux virtualization
Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) is another Linux-based platform for running virtual machines. It is open-source solution and turns your Linux server into a hypervisor. With it, you can run multiple virtual machines that share the same hardware resources, with each running its own operating system.
Red Hat virtualization is a familiar name that uses KVM as the hypervisor. It makes KVM a great platform to run virtual machines and it is supported by the open-source community.
So, if you want to use a more vanilla solution to virtualization with KVM, you can install Ubuntu Server or any other distro of your choosing, install KVM, and you are up and running.
The Open Source Edge: Leveraging Linux KVM in the Cloud
Linux KVM is not just about efficiency; it’s a testament to the power of open source in the virtualization and cloud computing spheres. It enables businesses to run multiple operating systems on a single Linux server, from Windows to Ubuntu, ensuring optimal resource utilization and scalability.
In the cloud era, KVM is a pillar of flexibility, allowing businesses to deploy private clouds or integrate with public clouds.
Read more about KVM hypervisor here:
5) Cloud IaaS and Kubernetes: Agile and Scalable Virtual Resources
Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has seen blistering adoption, particularly for businesses that want to get out of the data center business where they buy their own hardware, host their services, connectivity, etc.
Many companies love the idea of a “pay for what you use” model, instead of the tremendous CapEx expenses they have been used to for decades now.
The shift to Cloud IaaS signifies a broader trend toward digital transformation, allowing companies to deploy virtualized workloads with agility.
Embracing the Cloud: How IaaS Stands Up to Traditional VMs
Cloud IaaS overcomes some of the limitations of traditional virtual machines by offering a wide range of services that can be turned up in a moment’s notice. With this flexibility and agility to scale services on demand, Cloud IaaS platforms are becoming the environment many are using to host standard VMs and containers.
Amazon, Google, and Microsoft each have their own solution for cloud IaaS.
These services deliver many of the features of VMware ESXi without the limitations of physical infrastructure.
We can’t have a conversation about VMware alternatives without mentioning Kubernetes. It is not a direct competitor to VMware as a hypervisor but more organizations are looking at running microservices architectures in containers.
Monolithic apps generally run in virtual machines, while microservices apps align better with containers. Kubernetes is the de facto platform to run your containers in the enterprise.
With this shift to microservices, more are moving away from the traditional VM that VMware is extremely good at running and shifting to containerized workloads. It means that more are considering just running bare-metal Kubernetes clusters, or housing their containers in the cloud on hosted Kubernetes instances.
Read more about Kubernetes here:
- Top 5 Open Source Kubernetes Storage Solutions
- Kubernetes Persistent Volume Setup with Microk8s Rook and Ceph
- Microk8s vs k3s: Lightweight Kubernetes distribution showdown
Other solutions to mention
While this post emphasizes open-source, there are many other great options, including some other enterprise-paid solutions and others that are open-source. Note the following:
- Nutanix AHV
- Redhat Openshift virtualization
- Openstack, (Microstack from Canonical)
- SmartOS and others
Frequently Asked Questions
Proxmox combines the features of KVM virtualization and LXC containers. With it, you can deploy both virtual machines and containers within a single solution. Unlike VMware vSphere, Proxmox is open source. This provides a community-driven approach for running VMs and containers, which can be more appealing for those looking to customize their infrastructure without proprietary software.
XCP-ng offers an open source platform with comprehensive tools that streamline the deployment and administration of virtual environments. Its management solutions are accessible via a web interface, command line, and Xen Orchestra.
Live migration in Hyper-V enables moving running virtual machines from one server to another without downtime. This is a critical feature for hardware maintenance, load balancing, or disaster recovery.
Yes, it can run Windows virtual machines. This cross-compatibility is a requirement for most organizations that have a mixed OS environment. It allows them to use the open source benefits of KVM while running Windows-based applications.
Cloud IaaS platforms can scale resources up or down on demand. They provide businesses with a flexible model for their workloads and “elasticity”. This scaling can be done without the upfront investment in physical hardware, which is a limitation with traditional on-premises solutions like VMware.
Open source solutions can provide freedom from vendor lock-in. If you notice, many of the Linux solutions for virtualization run KVM underneath the hood making it a standard solution. This makes it easier to switch from one platform to another if needed down the road.
Most of the alternatives mentioned, like Proxmox, XCP-ng, and KVM, offer a free version that includes features such as live migration and high availability. However you will need to check with each solution as accessing enterprise-level support and additional management features could require a subscription.
When migrating from VMware to a new virtualization platform, considering the existing hardware, and features of each one. Solutions like Proxmox and KVM offer extensive support for multiple operating systems and many enterprise features for free.
Businesses must do their homework and look at the performance and security features of any VMware alternative. Scrutinize the compatibility with existing workloads, and feature parity with performance and other important metrics like security.
Which virtual environment is the best VMware alternative?
There is no shortage of really great open-source and other hypervisors that can run your virtualized workloads with many of the features you are used to with VMware, such as live migration, clustering, and shared storage. There is also cloud IaaS and Kubernetes for running containerized applications.
With the Broadcom merger and looming uncertainty, I know many are thinking about this. Hopefully, this post sheds light on potential VMware alternatives if you want to make a switch.