Microsoft counters VMware insanity with optimistic frown
Our time will come
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.
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.
I'm pretty sure that this is part of the reason VMware has pushed so hard with ESX Server 3i - a 32MB version of its flagship product that can and will be embedded into the flash memory of servers. Dell, IBM, HP, Fujitsu and others have lined up to include ESX 3i in the memory of at least one system each. So, you can boot right into VMware without touching an operating system, and VMware's hypervisor starts to look like a standard server component.
Of course, VMware would be in better shape with this play if every server from these vendors included ESX 3i or at least presented it as an option at sales time. That may happen one day. In the meantime, Microsoft is content to downplay VMware's actions.
"It is important to understand that Viridian will ship as part of Windows Server 2008," Microsoft's virtualization chief Mike Neil told us. "VMware is in a situation where they are not an OS vendor. They need a distribution mechansim through the OEMs. This is the approach they have taken."
But would Microsoft consider shipping a separate hypervisor that could slot into memory as well? Viridian is less than 1MB, according to Neil.
"I don't know that (an embedded hypervisor) has substantantial value today," Neil said.
Neil scoffed at the power-saving and performance-boosting claims made by the likes of Dell around a type of diskless virtualization appliance based on the embedded hypervisor. Customers will "have to store their virtual machines somewhere" in the end. And, if they really want to boot from the network, Microsoft can do that as well via Windows.
Beyond all that, Dell, VMware and others threaten to foist "complex" vendor-specific flash update tools on customers with this latest attack. Meanwhile, "serving Windows is a well understood technology," Neil said.
Rather than just dishing out the hypervisor, Microsoft "wants to provide the best experience for customers with virtualization and that includes things such as management tools and an optimized operating system."
Greene has heard and digested Microsoft's virtualization arguments and come away with little more than a mild case of heartburn.
She maintains that VMware has by far the most complete line of complementary management software surrounding its core hypervisor. In addition, she mocked Microsoft for pulling a VMotion -like tool for shifting virtual machines across physical servers from the initial Windows Server virtualization release.
"When (Viridian) ships, it will not even have VMotion," Greene said. "Our customers regard that as a critical feature."
Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to say that despite its lacking product and VMware's blockbuster IPO, it's primed to capture a big chunk of the rising virtualization tide.
"I don't believe we are in any way late to that growth," Neil said.
Which reminds me that I actually rather enjoy covering VMware after all. The Microsoft vs. Linux battle has grown so tired. ®