Virtual Machine Software: Top 10 Alternatives

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There was a time when you could Google “virtual machine software” and only VMware and Java would come up. But those days are long gone and now almost everyone has gotten into the virtualization business. And though VMware is my favorite, I wanted to be fair to my readers and all the vendors who have products that should be tested and evaluated by anyone considering a career in virtualization, or by businesses considering a solution for their new datacenter or private cloud.

Pick Your Favorite Color!

Listed below are 10 flavors of VM software. Five will install on a desktop and can run various operating systems seamlessly within the same pane of glass. And then there’s 5 more choices that are better suited for installing on server hardware. They all have their pluses and minuses. Does and don’ts. Lovers and haters. Chose one, or two, or three, or all 10.

VM Software Products That Run on a Desktop OS

1. VMware Player is a FREE for personal use software that will allow you to mount and run VMs directly from a Windows or Linux desktop. Though it lacks the ability to create new VMs from an ISO, it is still a powerful virtual machine software.

There is also a VMware Player Plus version with enhanced features but it will require purchasing a licenses. Click Here To Download VMware Player

2. Oracle VM VirtualBox is another cool FREE virtual machine software if you’re looking for an alternative to VMware Workstation. And it’s an excellent choice for beginners. Great for lab testing and running from the desktop, VirtualBox installs on Windows, OS X, Solaris and Linux.

Unlike VM Player it allows creation of new virtual machines from ISO or importing. And will run most 32 and 64bit operating systems as a VM. Click Here To Download VirtualBox (Oracle also has OVM which is not listed in my top ten)

3. VMware Workstation is a full featured virtual machine software that requires licensing. This software is for advanced users who require running multiple systems. For example it works well for developers needing database, web and application servers all in the same virtual space. It also allows saving projects and cloning.

VMware Workstation also interfaces with vSphere via an API and is fully supported by VMware. And with too many feature to list I can say from experience it’s a powerful solution for running virtual machines from a desktop. Try VMware Workstation 10 FREE for 30 days!

4. Parallels is a full featured virtual machine software which began especially to run a Windows virtual machine on Apple OS X. It was a great way to have both worlds and run Windows applications from a Mac.

Interestingly, you can run Windows on a Mac now a couple different ways, but legally you are still not allowed to run OS X on anything except Mac hardware. Although some have proven it is possible. Parallels requires purchasing a licenses. Click Here to Seamlessly Run Windows from a Mac.

5. VMware Fusion requires purchasing a licenses too and is another way to run Windows from a Mac!

VM Software Products That Run on Server Hardware (hardware virtualization)

6. Parallels Virtuozzo Containers has been around for a while and from what I can find it is used most by hosting companies for providing Virtual Private Servers aka VPS.

But to be completely honest with you, I’ve never used it or worked anywhere Virtuozzo was deployed. I’m not even aware of any business use cases running Virtuozzo for private cloud. Although after reading about it for this post, I would agree it seems like a good choice for hosting companies. Click Here To Download a Free Trial

7. (Microsoft Hyper-V) Once upon a time there was Microsoft VirtualPC, then there was Microsoft VirtualServer, and now there’s Microsoft Hyper-V.

A couple of years ago I remember going to a demo and watching Hyper-V crash, but since then a lot has changed. Hyper-V can now do many of the same things most enterprise virtualization software boast about. Live migration, HA, templates, and importing VMs from VMware and EC2 using SystemCenter VMM. The only real hang up is the lack of popularity with the Linux community

Hyper-V works best with Windows operating systems and it powers Microsoft’s own Azure Cloud. Click Here To Download Hyper-V.

8. XenServer (XenSource) is popular open sources virtual machine software that was acquired by Citrix. But then Citrix made the mistake of trying too hard to make a profit from XenSource and lost many of their key supporters in the process. Since then Citrix has seen their error and has reopened the source code.

XenServer is available for FREE but you can also buy the full supported version as well. It’s a powerful solution used in many enterprise environment for hosting servers and desktop operating systems. And linked to XenCenter it can do just about everything vSphere can such as live migration, HA and importing and exporting VMs to the cloud.

The key need to know is Amazon’s EC2 Cloud uses a highly customized version of Xen. Click Here To Download XenServer.

9. KVM (Kernel-Based Virtual Machine) is another of my favorites. I guess you can say it’s the second best choice. KVM is a full virtualization solution for Linux and is found already on most Linux Distros. It’s actually preferred by more Linux guru’s than VMware or XenServer, and it fits perfect into OpenStack.

There are FREE or a fully supported versions from RedHat and it does all the cool stuff too. But like Hyper-V with Linux, KVM has limits with virtualizing Windows.

KVM’s popularity has really been moving up on the list of virtual machine software’s due to its success with OpenStack. Marrying the 2 products together gives similar functionality as VMware vSphere, although there are some limitations with hosting Windows VMs, which are now taken care of by OpenStack’s ability to also support Hyper-V and ESXi. Click Here To Download KVM.

10. VMware ESXi does it all and more. For large enterprise virtual server deployments of Windows or Linux, VMware ESXi is the best solution in my opinion.

I’ll tell you upfront it is not a cheap solution but VMware does offer a FREE version of ESXi to get you hooked. And don’t expect too much from the FREE version because most of the valuable features rely on vCenter and shared storage integration, as well as licenses for HA, vMotion, DSR, and storage DRS.

Since the 90’s VMware has been evolving. It started as a clumsy little software that used to be installed on a Windows desktop. Then from there it evolved into GSX for Windows Servers. And then again it morphed into ESX which eliminated the need for Windows and booted to a Redhat kernel. And then in version 4 it became ESXi which now runs on a custom Linux kernel.

VMs on ESXi run Windows and Linux operating systems near flawlessly. It’s also a powerhouse for many large virtual desktop deployments running on VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop. And more recently VMware was in the news because they will soon power Google’s Chrome virtual desktop cloud and provide access to Windows application. How cool is that!

A final highlight about ESXi is that it is used in the majority of private clouds. And more recently many public clouds have been offerings services that allow flexing private vSphere infrastructure directly to public vSphere infrastructure. Click Here To Download ESXi.

Top 10 Virtual Machine Software Alternatives (Try Them Out!)

As you can see there are many options and features to choose from when considering all the virtual machine software alternatives that perform hardware virtualization. And aside from my obvious bias for VMware, here’s what you need to ask yourself:

  • Will it be for running on a desktop?
  • Will it be for running Windows on a Linux OS or OS X?
  • Will it be for testing and learning or for production?
  • Will it be for hosting VPS or building a cloud?
  • Will it need to support HA, live migrations, and transition to the public cloud?
  • Will it be for Windows or Linux, or Windows and Linux?
  • Will it be open source or not, free or not?

So whether you’re  running one instance of Windows on a Mac, or hosting hundreds of Windows or Linux VMs on Whitebox Servers in a datacenter, there’s an alternative solution for you. Give them all a try…

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