Virtual machine software is a hot commodity right now. Having created the market, VMware (NYSE:VMW) now commands one of the larger market capitalizations in the entire software industry. At $21 billion, it trails Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), and SAP AG (NYSE:SAP), while running neck-and-neck with Adobe Systems.

So of course, the traditional powerhouses want a piece of that pie, too. That's why Microsoft is stepping up its own virtual server release schedule, getting its Hyper-V management platform out about a month ahead of schedule. The product is already getting rave reviews, with some rags basically calling it a VMware killer.

Hyper-V was designed with experienced Windows administrators in mind, so the interface feels natural to IT workers with other experience in Microsoft products. There are also licensing advantages to signing up for Hyper-V support, which can end up saving thousands of dollars per physical server in installation and support costs -- assuming that your company runs mostly high-end Microsoft operating systems on every virtual server. Combined, these two benefits add up to a compelling virtual platform for Windows-heavy IT shops, where the somewhat Unix-flavored offerings from VMware would require new training or more staff.

Having worked in two large enterprise data centers myself, however, I'd like to point out that most large businesses have a diverse set of computing platforms, and the support staff to go along with them. Moving some of that melange onto VMware images should not be too hard for most of the big boys. In the small-business space, the picture changes, and Hyper-V's usability and cost advantages could drive some sales.

Given that VMware roughly holds around 85% market share in the virtual server sector, and it has both the technical chops and name recognition to keep the gravy train rolling, I'd be shocked to see Microsoft displacing it overnight. But it is good to see big players like the Redmond Raiders jumping in and growing the market a bit. After all, I think Hyper-V belongs in IT departments that never had a virtualization strategy before, rather than making converts out of established VMware fans. So the rumors of VMware's death seem to be greatly exaggerated.

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