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Microsoft counters VMware insanity with optimistic frown

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Analysis I used to enjoy covering VMware.

In the good old days, CEO Diane Greene would stop by the office to chat about everything, including point upgrades to ESX Server, GSX Server - remember that - or Workstation. She never tried to oversell the products. She embraced a humble, intelligent approach to discussing VMware's products and plans.

You won't find much reserved about VMware these days. The company's gaudy IPO - documented here in pornographic detail - shattered any notions of holding onto the blushing pride of yesteryear.

So too did last week's VMworld conference in San Francisco. The show used to be a niche event all about a niche vendor. Then, in one year, it transformed into the flagship virtualization gala.

Covering the event turned into an oppressive process due to the volume of marketeers trying to hitch their virtual workloads to VMware and those trying to define their means of besting VMware.

I told Greene, who maintains her incisive, engineering-driven charm despite all the hoopla, that they should change the name of the conference to Virtual World. She joked that VMworld will work just fine - it's Virtual Machine World as much as VMware World, don't ya know.

The painful part about covering VMware these days comes from its newfound place as the undeniable industry standard of which everyone wants a piece. Something like thirty press releases tied to VMware went out last week. Have ESX add-on; will travel.

Microware

You've truly made it as an important rival to the world's biggest software company when Microsoft shows up at your event.

The folks from Microsoft's server virtualization unit appeared at VMworld to elaborate on the company's latest moves. Microsoft has firmed ties with XenSource acquirer Citrix, as the vendors look to clobber VMware in tandem. It's also committed to shipping a trial version of its new Viridian hypervisor with the initial release of Windows Server 2008. There were a couple of other bits and bobs that you can catch here.

Microsoft's main marketing lever in the virtualization game continues to be the small size of the market. Only five per cent of the server kingdom has virtualized so far, we're told. So, Microsoft has plenty of time to catch up with VMware.

As best as I can tell, Microsoft relies on 2005 data from a large analyst house to back up this statement. Even if it doesn't, the point is muted by the fact that VMware has already inserted itself into the consciousness of server customers everywhere. They might not have bought VMware's software yet, but the customers are familiar with the vendors' play. No customers can claim any familiarity with Microsoft's rival to VMware and XenSource, since it's not shipping.

While Microsoft's virtualization market downplay does little to move me, I can appreciate its arguments around the merits of Viridian or Windows Server virtualization as it's formally known.

For one, Microsoft can tweak its operating system to deliver the best possible Windows virtualization experience. You should expect Microsoft's own hypervisor to surpass rivals' software when performing basic slicing of Windows Server.

More importantly, Microsoft will enjoy an unmatched distribution model with its hypervisor. Every physical server that ships with Windows Server 2008 will be virtualization-ready. Customers wanting to know what all the virtualization fuss is about will see Microsoft as their most direct path to acquiring the technology.

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