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VMware's one-trick pony: Destined to be a platform?

A Maritz made in heaven - or not

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Comment These guys could make it. VMware could be another Oracle, another supplier whose steel is tempered by the furnace heat of Microsoft competition, instead of weakening and melting away like Netscape, the Lotus spreadsheet and other classic Microsoft-whipped suppliers.

You get the feeling listening to VMware staffers that they are starting to believe they can win against Microsoft and Hyper-V. Suddenly, it seems, and to their surprise, they are a nearly 7,000 strong, $2bn company with EMC reassuringly behind them. They've survived the firing of Diane Greene and, again to their surprise, quite taken to Paul Maritz.

Maritz is key to this confidence they have - it's not just that he has stabilised the VMware ship after the lurch caused by Greene's ousting and other senior departures; it's two other things.

First of all it's the technology which - VMware people absolutely believe - is good, very good. There is, they fervently say, no other enterprise server and data centre virtualisation play in town. Businesses wanting to virtualise their servers inside a virtualising data centre infrastructure have to dance according to VMware's tune. Microsoft's Hyper-V music isn't ready, they say, and open source virtualisation is lagging and doesn't have enterprise credibility.

Enterprise businesses buffeted by the recession, by power supply limitations and by ever more complex IT infrastructures have reached a tipping point. Enough is enough. They want to take an axe to the thousand server flowers blooming in their data centres and simplify it all. VMware with its virtualised data centre dream, lent credibility by the massed ranks of server, storage and networking suppliers jumping aboard its bandwagon, promises this.

Microsoft doesn't have anything like it. Yes, for sure Hyper-V will get there with a Hyper-V data centre OS sometime, but enterprises know what to expect with Microsoft - version one horror stories, Vista-style delays and disappointments. All that Microsoft silver is tarnished, whereas VMware's gold is still shiny bright precious metal.

The second thing Maritz brings is the ability to articulate the VMware story better than Diane Greene. He came in to VMware, talked widely, listened to what people said, absorbed the VMware messages, and then articulated them back to people in a new way. He didn't change the essential messages but the context, the wrapping, was better than before.

Maritz is a terrific ambassador for VMware, both to customers and to EMC externally, and internally to VMware people themselves. He's more coach than charismatic leader, but his style works. They got their belief back.

No one inside VMware will openly criticise Diane Green, loyalty there running deep, but nobody will criticize Maritz either. Not least because hiring him is like sleeping with the enemy. VMware people reckon Maritz wrote the Microsoft competition gameplan. Ballmer's Microsoft is making its moves according to this plan and Maritz knows what the moves are and how to counter them. It's a very comforting view for the VMware kids.

They know - they think they know - that they have a finite window until the time Microsoft gets its virtualisation effort into a credible and deliverable state for enterprises. In that time they have to take their one-trick virtualisation pony and turn it into a self-sustaining platform with a healthy ecosystem of suppliers depending upon it for their revenues and nurturing it in consequence.

Singing the vcloud API standard song is very astute. It reassures all people already on board and climbing on board the VMware bandwagon that VMware is open and not looking to lock them in. Even if Microsoft doesn't join in this standardisation effort with a whole heart, it doesn't matter so long as VMware gets enough critical mass.

By having external cloud suppliers and internal cloud users believe that cloud federation through VMware's vCloud infrastructure is realistic then the two types of cloud user will bolster and reassure each other. They want it to happen and, if it does, then Hyper-V is locked out unless it plays by the VMware-driven and VMware partner-supported cloud standardisation rules, in which case MIcrosoft's cloud customers are open to competitive attack. It's unlikely to happen.

This is the plan - if it comes off, then like Oracle's database facing SQL Server competition, VMware can withstand the expected Hyper-V assaults and emerge relatively unscathed. The VMware kids say the company is still a start-up at heart. You can understand that; there's a lot of energy there, but the start-up sprint is over; they're in for the long haul now.

Coach Maritz has to keep them enthusiastic and focussed, avoiding missteps - otherwise their success, like that of NetScape, Lotus, Corel and other suppliers blasted into cowering submission by the Redmond army, will turn out to be merely virtual too.®

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