James Thew - Fotolia

DH2i first off the line with Windows Server containers

With DH2i's release of DxEnterprise, IT pros can manage enterprise deployments of Windows Server containers.

IT pros in Windows shops who have envied the advantages Docker brings to Linux applications can now manage Windows Server based containers.

As Microsoft and Docker work to develop a version of the Docker Engine to bring containers to Windows Server, another company has beaten them to the punch.

DH2i, based in Fort Collins, Colorado made its DxEnterprise container management software generally available last week. By doing so, it became the first company to sell enterprise level management software for Windows Server-based containers.

Containers have triggered a growing conversation about higher levels of consolidation and the future of server virtualization. Unlike a virtual machine (VM), each container does not require a separate instance of an operating system, and many analysts see potential for containers to replace VMs in some scenarios. Until recently, the focus has been on Linux-based Docker containers.

"[With DxEnterprise] you don't have the overhead you have with [Microsoft's] Hyper-V – and there can be significant overhead," said Marc Staimer, senior analyst at Dragon Slayer Consulting, based in Beaverton, Oregon. "And you don't have the cost associated with running applications in separate instances on separate VMs. So, you get better performance and you get lower cost."

DxEnterprise is priced at $1,500 per core plus $360 per core per year for a support subscription. Container and VM pricing isn't an apples to apples comparison, however, so Hyper-V and VMware pricing will vary based on an environment. 

Just as hypervisor-based virtualization took several years to grow, Staimer said containers may take time to catch on in most enterprises. And, while DH2i's software likely doesn't present an immediate threat to VMware, it could have important implications for Microsoft. 

The Hyper-V dilemma

Hyper-V has gained ground against VMware, climbing from 26% in 2012 to 30.6% of the hypervisor market share in 2014 while VMware has fallen from 51.5% to 46.4%, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker report. Hyper-V adoption has been particularly strong among cost-conscious small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) or in test and development environments. It's possible these organizations might also be attracted to containers for the same reasons that Hyper-V has gained popularity in recent years, he said.

"If they've built up their infrastructure, their processes, their methodology all around the VMware hypervisor, they're not going to abandon it," Staimer said. "But if they're not on VMware – and most SMBs are not – then they have a different play. They may look at [DxEnterprise] and think, 'Maybe I can cut my cost.' Those who go with Hyper-V usually have a different focus than those who go with VMware."

Both the cost savings and the ease of management through its integrated automation tools are what made DxEnterprise attractive to Eversheds LLP, an international law firm based in London, according to Dean Bray, the company's technical services manager.

Eversheds began to use DH2i's software two years ago as part of a larger plan to migrate from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008. Now, nearly 90% of its SQL Server instances run inside DH2i containers, Bray said. 

"The fact that we were able to consolidate with DH2i has saved us about 40% on licensing costs," Bray said. 

Standardization vs. functionality

Analysts say more companies are likely to develop container management technologies in the next few years. DH2i's long-term success will likely depend on whether the market chooses to standardize on a single platform – like Docker – or rely on multiple platforms, said Edward Haletky, principal analyst at the Virtualization Practice, based in Austin, Texas.

"With containerization, I think people are going to choose a container based on function rather than standardizing," Haletky said. "Think about it, today we have multiple Internet browsers and multiple desktop operating systems."

If virtualization vendors, such as VMware and Microsoft, continue to throw their weight behind a particular approach and develop a viable container platform with advanced management features, it could shake up the market. 

"If Microsoft comes out with a Docker for Windows, it changes the landscape in a very interesting way," Haletky said. "Container platforms outside of Docker may not survive. Standardization may win over functionality."

Even if Microsoft and Docker do deliver on a Windows container, that wouldn't necessarily be a death sentence for DH2i. Don Boxley, DH2i CEO, said his company's management software will be able to support future Windows-based application containers – including those from Microsoft – and will provide advanced availability, orchestration and resource management features that its competitors may not offer.

Dig Deeper on Microsoft Hyper-V management