VDI hypervisor selection: Does it matter what you pick?

Selecting the right hypervisor is an important step in your VDI project, but hypervisor-agnostic management tools are becoming more popular -- making it easier to use multiple vendors' technology in your deployment.

With so many choices, how do you choose a VDI hypervisor?

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IT pros focus on compatibility, operating system support, display protocols and other factors to select their platform, but hypervisor-agnostic strategies may be changing the specialized hypervisor into little more than a commodity. It matters less and less which one you choose, because today's management tools can work with many hypervisor technology vendors and types.

More on hypervisor technology:

Choosing a virtualization hypervisor: Eight factors to consider

Understanding hosted and bare-metal virtualization hypervisor types

Top 10 hypervisors: Choosing the best hypervisor technology

Hosted virtualization hypervisors and use cases: The complete guide

The evolution of hypervisor technology

Third-party vendors have started to use common methodologies in their products that can integrate with multiple hypervisors. That means the management products you need for server and desktop virtualization -- for virtual machine creation, monitoring, etc. -- are beginning to focus less on working with a particular hypervisor. (It has also driven hypervisor technology vendors to be more open with application programming interfaces and other integration hooks, helping the industry devise standards for integration, management and control.)

No longer are IT shops limited to one platform because of vendor loyalties or their existing hardware and software. For virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) shops, that's a major blessing, because desktop virtualization takes a lot more than just the VDI hypervisor to function -- from display protocols to storage technologies to management applications.

In the past, desktop virtualization environments were married to a single vendor for all their technology. That lack of freedom to mix and match products often led to failures when it came time to move from the pilot phase of the VDI project to the actual implementation. IT managers want to use a combination of best-of-breed tools to deploy and manage virtual desktops, and hypervisor-agnostic tools from third-party vendors allow them to do that.

How VDI benefits from hypervisor-agnostic tools

Types of hypervisors:

The primary hypervisors are VMware ESX/ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, Oracle VM and Red Hat KVM. Hypervisors can be broken down into two camps: bare-metal hypervisors and hosted hypervisors. Bare-metal hypervisors run directly on the hardware, while hosted hypervisors require an OS to be installed. In other words, a bare-metal hypervisor is like the basic OS, and a hosted hypervisor is like an application that runs on the OS.

With broad support for multiple hypervisors offered by both hardware and software vendors, VDI shops can now select virtualization platforms based on preferences other than compatibility. For example, if a Microsoft shop wants to stick with Hyper-V simply because it's already included with the Windows Server OSes, whatever tools the shop chooses for VDI management will most likely work with Hyper-V.

What's more, the commonality in support across hypervisor technology allows IT departments to mix and match different vendors. You could virtualize servers using VMware ESX/ESXi, then build out VDI using Citrix technology and manage both with the same set of management tools.

The hypervisor-agnostic approach to VDI also means organizations can freely switch from one hypervisor to another without wasting their investments in third-party products such as virtualization management suites and monitoring tools.

The advantages of hypervisor-agnostic tools are evident in the world of server virtualization, but it's the desktop virtualization community that will benefit the most. VDI shops often have to work with different application mixes, operating systems and classes of hardware, so multiple VDI hypervisors may be the best way to deliver their virtual machines.

Frank Ohlhorst
is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

This was first published in June 2012

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