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VMworld Microsoft's assault on VMware knows no bounds.

On Tuesday, as VMware opened its annual VMworld conference in San Francisco, Microsoft dropped an open letter into national McPaper USA Today that accused the company of trying to lock customers into a technology platform incapable of building a "complete cloud computing environment." Then Redmond actually turned up at VMware's trade show to explain this sweeping claim, laying down any number of vague reasons why you shouldn't ink an IT contract with its estranged son, VMware boss Paul Maritz.

"VMware's sort of virtualization is just putting your workloads into a vm and moving them into these environments, but you're not really getting the benefits of the cloud," Microsoft general manager of Windows Server and server virtualization Mike Neil told The Reg Wednesday afternoon from inside VMworld. "You're not getting to that scalability. You're not getting to the capabilities that you really want from a cloud provider."

Then he added that VMware isn't really a cloud provider. "They don't really have a cloud offering themselves," he said. Which is true. Unlike Microsoft or Amazon or Google, VMware doesn't actually offer its own public service for building and hosting applications. It offers a platform, vCloud Director, that underpins public services from various partners, and it sells the same platform to businesses interested into duplicating these so-called clouds inside their own data centers.

But we're not quite sure why that's such a problem.

Neil told us that because VMware hasn't actually built its own public cloud, it's ill-suited to building them for others. This, he said, is why it took so long to get vCloud Director to market. "They don't really offer their own service. They don't understand firsthand how difficult and complex it is. Deploying these large-scale data centers and large-scale services is a real challenge. It takes a lot of technology that you don't see as a customer when you just go and buy a box of software. There's a lot of technology that just goes into the physical design of these data centers and the operations and management of them that isn't caught in a piece of software."

Microsoft has offered its own public cloud since January. It's called Windows Azure. And Neil boasted that like VMware, Microsoft also offers tools for building private clouds inside their own data centers, and that these tools are married to hardware. The trouble is that they aren't quite ready yet. Microsoft has promised Azure appliances from the likes of Dell, HP, and Fujitsu by the end of the year.

Windows Azure, we should add, is also a very different beast from the clouds fluffed by vCloud Director, which fashions "infrastructure clouds" that serve up raw processing power, storage, and networking as its needed. Azure is what's known as a development cloud. It offers tools for building, hosting, and scaling applications, while hiding the raw resources.

In some ways, this a case of horses for courses. You may want the raw VMs. Others may prefer to avoid the hassle. Some would argue that an infrastructure cloud offers more flexibility. You have more freedom to run the tools of your choosing. With Azure, you're limited to certain development tools — though it does support a wide variety, including .NET as well as Eclipse, Ruby, PHP, and Python. Microsoft intends to offer raw VMs on Azure, but these will be limited to running Windows Server.

But Redmond believes its setup is "more open." According to Neil, it allows customers to more readily move applications onto third-party clouds.

"If you look at [VMware's] vCloud solution, I can only run [my application] if I have another vCloud provider on the other end of the equation," he said. "I can't make that work with Amazon or all of the other providers out there...We're taking a more open approach. We want to make sure all these things interoperate. We want to make sure they all work together."

Of course, all cloud outfits say much the same about themselves. We tried to get a more precise answer out of Neil, but at this point, he began comparing Azure to VMware's SpringSource Java framework, which VMware is pitching as the primary development platform for vCloud environments. Neil claimed that Spring is now being tied to the underlying VMware virtualization stack — and that Microsoft would never do such a thing. "We're not doing that. We've got an open set of APIs you can use, and others can provide the same capabilities on their platform."

As you might expect, VMware sees this very differently. The company is working with cloud partners such as Salesforce and Google to ensure that Spring can build applications for other public clouds. And VMware can call Spring open because it's open source. "Spring has made an enormous contribution to application portability over the last five years," Rod Johnson, the former SpringSource man who now serves as senior vice president of VMware's application platform division, told us over email.

"With Spring, customers can choose deployment platforms — whether legacy application servers like WebLogic or WebSphere, lightweight runtimes like Tomcat, or cloud destinations like [the Saleforce-hosted] VMforce or Google App Engine. This provides customers a clear and easy path to cloud computing.

"VMware also recognizes that we are now in the age of open source programming models, and our commitment to open source benefits not merely VMware customers but the broader open source community."

Microsoft also points out that Spring is just for Java. But this week, VMware vowed to offer tools for Ruby-on-Rails, PHP, and possibly .NET as well.

We won't attempt to referee this difference of opinion. But we do appreciate Microsoft's willingness to discuss the matter. And we can honestly say that its arguments are nowhere near as muddled as those delivered by Paul Maritz in his VMworld keynote. He claims that the VMware stack is slowly supplanting Microsoft Windows. In a way. We think. ®

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