The ascent from virtualization to the cloud

Back in 1999, when VMware first released its type-2 hypervisor, VMware Workstation, a new world opened up: Suddenly, you could run multiple operating systems on the same PC. But the real tipping point for virtualization was 2001, with the release of VMware ESX Server, a type-1 hypervisor that installed on bare metal, vastly improving hardware utilization. That kicked off what I call the decade of virtualization.

VMware wasn’t alone for long, although as first mover it always seemed to stay a step ahead. Citrix Xen and later Microsoft Hyper-V arrived, the latter gradually closing the gap on features and performance. VM management, migration/failover options, and so forth kept the war going. For those running Windows Server, there was an added attraction: Hyper-V was bundled at no extra cost.

Now we’re in the decade of the cloud, when we’re seeing a dimensional shift from a 2D on-prem world to a 3D cloud world. Servers going “up” to the public cloud transcend the virtualization decision. In the same way nobody cares about which servers are running in the cloud (“Are they Dell servers? Because I only use Dell,” said nobody ever), no one cares about the hypervisor, either. What they care about are the features and pricing of the cloud vendor they are working with.

Of the three virtualization players, Microsoft is the only one to take a leadership position in the cloud. According to nearly everyone, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Compute Cloud are the three top cloud providers, in that order. Of those, Microsoft has argued most strenuously that to ease the transition to the cloud, a hybrid architecture is necessary, with parallel on-prem and public cloud infrastructure.