Virtualization

Top 5 VMware Alternatives in 2023

Discover the top VMware alternatives for 2023: XCP-ng, Proxmox, Hyper-V, KVM, and Cloud IaaS for cutting-edge virtualization solutions.

Highlights

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • But, I do think a shift is happening, and it is good to keep your options open and know what is available.

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.

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.

Vmware vsphere
Vmware vsphere

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.

Viewing the web interface of your xcp ng host
Viewing the web interface of your xcp ng host
Clicking import and letting the iso upload
Clicking import and letting the iso upload
Xcp ng server console
Xcp ng server console

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:

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 summary screen
Proxmox summary screen

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.

Spinning up a new proxmox lxc container
Spinning up a new proxmox lxc container

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.

Microsoft hyper v
Microsoft hyper v

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.

Azure cloud iaas
Azure cloud iaas

These services deliver many of the features of VMware ESXi without the limitations of physical infrastructure.

Kubernetes

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.

Kubernetes
Kubernetes

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.

Running kubectl in a kubernetes cluster
Running kubectl in a kubernetes cluster

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:

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

What’s different about Proxmox from VMware’s vSphere?

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.

How does XCP-ng manage virtual resources?

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.

What is Hyper-V live migration?

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.

Can Linux KVM run Windows-based virtual machines?

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.

What makes Cloud IaaS a viable alternative?

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.

How does the adoption of open source software impact vendor lock-in concerns?

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.

Do the free versions of these VMware alternatives offers live migration and high availability?

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.

What are the key considerations for migration away from VMware?

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.

How can businesses maintain security when transitioning to a VMware alternative?

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.

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Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee is the Senior Writer, Engineer and owner at Virtualizationhowto.com and has over two decades of experience in Information Technology. Having worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as in various industries, Brandon has extensive experience in various IT segments and is a strong advocate for open source technologies. Brandon holds many industry certifications, loves the outdoors and spending time with family.

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17 Comments

  1. What about SmartOS? (OpenSolaris + KVM + QEMU ; ZFS ; FIFO as Orchestrator)
    May you take a look and share your thoughts/opinions?
    Thanks!

    1. Henry,

      Thank you for the comment! I don’t have personal experience with SmartOS but definitely looks interesting. I will definitely be trying this out soon. Thanks again.

      Brandon

  2. Your article seems to gear towards Homelab use case.

    For business/enterprise, there are of course other products (eg Nutanix AHV).

    Cheers

    1. Anonymous Cow,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I do write a lot of content geared towards home labs. However, it is definitely a discussion to consider for enterprise as well. I see many asking questions about VMware alternatives. Nutanix is also a great solution. I know many are looking at even more cost-effective options as they refactor for the cloud. Keep in mind, there is no right or wrong answer here, but it is good to know all the options and Nutanix is certainly a direction many may consider, depending on what happens this upcoming year with the Broadcom merger.

      Brandon

  3. There’s also Openstack to consider. In particular, Microstack from Canonical makes it quite easy to start using Openstack, especially with a single node

    1. Ben,

      Thank you for the comment! Definitely another great option. Thanks for mentioning. I think these types of solutions have a lot of merit for many enterprise customers and many know and respect Canonical. So, it could be a natural and comfortable transition for them.

      Brandon

  4. Most of the options are open source which a lot of people are uncomfortable with.
    As the previous post indicated, there is no mention of Nutanix, nor Red Hat OpenShift Virtualization.
    Thoughts on either one of these options?

    1. Lewis,

      Thanks for the comment! Definitely Nutanix is a great platform that I know many may look towards if they decide to transition from VMware. I gave focus to the more open-source solutions since many of these do have paid support for enterprise customers that choose to purchase and that are more cost effective.

      Brandon

  5. If you are a FreeBSD user, there’s BHYVE. It’s not user friendly and has no UI (CLI only). I like customization over pretty interfaces and locked in paradigms (script everything!). As far as up times go, well it’s FreeBSD πŸ™‚

  6. I assume you’re less familiar with the Microsoft world, as the statement ‘There is no longer a Hyper-V Server starting in Windows Server 2022’ isn’t correct.

    What you mean is that the free, and without support, Hyper-V Server stopped at version 2019. No enterprise would ever use this; they would licence Windows Server and run the Hyper-V role, which is updated as of the 2022 version and had improvements over 2019.

    I do agree that Azure Stack HCI is the current focus though, particularly aimed at enterprises that use Azure cloud services already.

    1. Will,

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, absolutely, meaning the free version. Understandably, many enterprise environments won’t use Hyper-V Server. To clarify what I meant with that statement is that the writing is on the wall that the traditional Hyper-V installation I think will be going away in favor of the Azure driven licensing and enablement. I haven’t seen too many that are confident in the path moving forward with Hyper-V to be honest.

      Brandon

    1. Marcus,

      Thank you for the comment! I have tested out Rancher Harvester very early on and it was fairly rough around the edges. However, I am sure things have come a long way since I tested it out and most likely is much more polished now. Definitely a good shout out on Harvester.

      Brandon

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