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VMware vs Proxmox

Hardware virtualization is the process of creating a software-based version of some type of computing resource such as processing, storage or networking. A virtual machine (VM) is a complete platform that includes all of the virtual resources needed for it to behave like a physical computer with an operating system (OS). The software that a VM executes is logically separated from its underlying hardware resources, although these resources may support a virtualized environment to improve its performance.

Virtualization is part of a general trend in computing to treat resources as a utility rather than a physical asset, allowing clients to pay for only the resources they actually use. This process increases the efficiency of hardware utilization, since a single physical machine can run multiple VMs simultaneously, which reduces overhead costs. Virtualization also allows organizations to manage system updates more effectively, thereby minimizing their impact on the user.

These benefits often motivate organizations that are still using a traditional “one server, one application” model to migrate to a virtualized environment. This process will require company executives to select the software they will use to implement virtualization, which can be a challenging decision. Proxmox VE and VMware ESXi are two of the most popular virtualization solutions, although they differ in many respects. These differences will require careful consideration when choosing between the two solutions.

Overview

Proxmox

Proxmox Virtual Environment (VE) is a server virtualization environment that’s open source and licensed under version 3 of the GNU Affero General Public License. It’s a Debian-based distribution of Linux with a modified Ubuntu kernel that allows users to deploy and manage VMs. Proxmox VE was initially released in 2008, and the current version is 5.3 as of January 2019.

Proxmox supports full virtualization with Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM), which is a virtualization infrastructure that turns the Linux kernel into a hypervisor. It also supports container-based virtualization with Linux Containers (LXC), an OS-level virtualization method that has been included in Proxmox VE since version 4.0. Proxmox includes a bare-metal installer, web-based management interface and many command-line tools. It also has a Representational State Transfer (REST) API that supports third-party tools.

VMware

VMware, Inc. is a subsidiary of Dell Technologies that provides platform virtualization software and related services. Its cloud computing virtualization solution is vSphere, formerly known as VMware Infrastructure until 2009. VMWare still has the largest market share in the virtualization market, although it typically shrinks each year.

The latest version of vSphere is 6.7, which was released in April 2018. This version includes many changes to facilitate VM management at scale and provide a more seamless cloud experience, including a universal application platform and improved security features. VMware ESXi is a type-1 hypervisor, also known as a bare metal hypervisor that allows enterprises to deploy and serve VMs. It runs directly on its host’s hardware, as opposed to an application installed onto the OS. ESXi includes a kernel along with other integrated OS components and is the primary component in vSphere.

Features

VMWare has more features overall than Proxmox, although Proxmox’s features are more practical. For example, Proxmox automatically allows nodes to use the same shared storage when the user adds them to a cluster. In comparison, ESXi requires the user to manually configure a node to use the shared storage from its cluster.

The biggest difference in the basic features of Proxmox and VMWare lies in their typical usage. Both solutions are commonly for cloud computing and server consolidation. However, Proxmox is also used for virtualized server isolation and software development, while VMWare is more likely to be used for business critical applications and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

Another major difference is that KVM can run an arbitrary OS, while ESXi is unable to do so. ESXi also uses proprietary technology to support virtualization, VT-x for Intel processors and AMD-V for AMD processors. In comparison, KVM relies on generic x86 virtualization technology.

KVM supports many more image types than ESXi. Both solutions are compatible with floppy disks, ISO, physical disks and VMDK, which is a file format developed by VMWare. However, KVM also supports the following formats:

  • Folders on host
  • Raw disk
  • Raw partition
  • HDD
  • QCOW
  • QCOW2
  • QED
  • VDI

Value

Proxmox is open source while VMWare products are proprietary, which makes Proxmox the clear winner on value. For example, VMWare requires vendor representatives to take a course to become “VCP” certified even if they pass the exam, which is contrary to virtually all other vendor certification programs. This course currently costs $4,250, which prevents many vendors from obtaining this certification. Other issues that reduce the value of VMWare solutions include licensing, hardware obsolescence and proprietary Linux distributions.

These problems are causing VMWare’s market to go elsewhere, often to Proxmox. Many virtualization users feel that VMWare is putting itself out of business through the use of these strong-arm tactics. Most computing professionals now believe that Proxmox with Openstack implementations represents the future in virtualization.

Licensing

Proxmox is open source, although commercial support for Proxmox and other services are available on a subscription bases. The lack of any fee for the license itself can greatly facilitate the implementation of Proxmox since there won’t be any issues with license compatibility.

VMWare products like ESXi and vSphere require licenses, which isn’t necessarily a problem in itself. However, VMWare has a particularly large number of license types, which can reduce its flexibility when migrating to a virtualized environment between data centers. Furthermore, VMWare’s licensing policies don’t allow for a grace period, which make it less forgiving than those of many other commercial software developers.

The challenges created by VMWare licensing issues also include the scenario in which ESXi is being migrated to data centers that don’t support vMotion or High Availability (HA), VMWare products that help maximize uptime for ESXi. vMotion transfers VMs between servers while they’re still running, thus eliminating downtime during a migration. HA restarts VM guest OSs in the event the ESX physical host fails. Another scenario that can create a license conflict occurs when a CMOS battery dies or a BIOS clock is manually set to a point in the past, thus causing the VMWare licenses to expire.

Reliability

System administrators can inadvertently bring down both Proxmox and VMWare, especially when they make configuration changes related to clustering and HA. However, many analysts believe that VMWare’s overall architecture makes it less reliable in practical terms.

Consider a case in which VMWare is installed on multiple servers on the same day. This scenario could cause those licenses to expire at the same time, bringing a large portion of an organization’s infrastructure down for a prolonged period if it happens on a weekend. Another issue with ESXi’s reliability is that it won’t automatically reconnect to NFS storage if that storage goes down temporarily. A system administrator must either reboot ESXi or use Secure Shell (SSH) to restart it. ESXi also supports fewer guest OSs, preventing it from booting under conditions where Proxmox is able to run.

Ease of Use

Proxmox and VMWare are both generally easy to use after they’re installed, although they have significant differences in this regard. VMWare is easier for implementations that require a high degree of clustering and HA since VMWare’s GUI can prepare and add storage, which isn’t possible with Proxmox’s GUI. However, Proxmox’s command-line interface (CLI) is easier to use than ESXi’s CLI, because the base OS for Proxmox is Debian Linux. Administrators can therefore apply their existing Linux knowledge to use the Proxmox CLI. In comparison, VMWare uses a proprietary version of Linux with its own management tools, which will require additional time to learn.

Flexibility

Clustering and HA is much more flexible with Proxmox since it treats all of its nodes as master nodes. Any node can manage a cluster in Proxmox, so cluster management is still possible so long as at least one node is running. In comparison, only one instance of vSphere is available to manage all ESXi hosts. If that instance goes down, system administrators are unable to manage or even see any of the hosts. Additional features that give Proxmox the advantage in flexibility over cluster management include Common Internet File System (CIFS), GlusterFS, Logical Volume Manager (LVM) and mdadm.

Requirements

VMWare has far more hardware requirements than Proxmox, due in part because it’s owned by Dell, a hardware manufacturer. Each release of VMWare stops supporting some older hardware, which is then unable to run VMWare. Proxmox’s hardware requirements are much simpler, generally requiring only that the CPU support either AMD-V or Intel VT-x.

Summary

Most of Proxmox’s advantages over VMWare stem from the fact that Proxmox has an open source, while VMWare doesn’t. The direct result of this difference is that using VMWare incurs the risk of licensing issues. Indirectly, Proxmox’s open source also gives it a lower learning curve, since it’s based on the standard Debian Linux that most Linux administrators already know. Furthermore, Proxmox has much less restrictive hardware requirements since it doesn’t render hardware obsolete like VMWare does. These reasons show why most experts expect the use of Proxmox to grow as more organizations migrate to a virtualized environment.

References:
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