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Microsoft Solidifies Its Private Cloud Approach

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted January 18, 2012


Make no mistake: Microsoft is planning to seize control of the private cloud computing market from VMware, and System Center 2012 is the weapon the company hopes will ensure its success.

Talking at a release candidate launch webcast (yes, companies still have release candidate launch events these days, really!) Tuesday, Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's management and security division, announced that the company's management suite will now be offered as a single product (instead of a set of modular components), and it is available in two versions: a standard version for two OSes, priced at $1,323, and a data center version supporting unlimited VMs, for around $3,600. The standard version is aimed at organizations running physical servers, while the data center version is really the product you want if you intend to build yourself a private cloud.

"There are the same capabilities in both products. The only thing that is different is the number of OSes or VMs that you are authorized to manage," Anderson explained. "With the data center version you have the ability to manage unlimited VMs per server, so you can scale your virtualization, scale your density, and the costs stay the same. Our competitors (for which read VMware) can't do that."

As well as a unified installer, System Center 2012 features the following components:

  • System Center 2012 App Controller
  • System Center 2012 Configuration Manager - for comprehensive configuration management
  • System Center 2012 Data Protection Manager
  • System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection
  • System Center 2012 Operations Manager
  • System Center 2012 Orchestrator
  • System Center 2012 Service Manager
  • System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager

VMware might be choking on its coffee about this, as its private cloud offering isn't available as a single packaged product with straightforward licensing. Instead, you must buy vSphere (licensed per processor), vCenter (licensed per instance), as well as all the other bits and bobs: vCloud Director, vShield, vCenter Operations Manager and so on, -- all of which are licensed per VM. That means many private cloud deployments look like they will be much less expensive with Microsoft's cloud solution than with VMware's.

System Center 2012 has also been designed for maximum flexibility when it comes to hybrid and public clouds, and even the choice of hypervisor, according to Anderson. "We designed System Center 2012 from the ground up to enable the use of hybrid clouds," Anderson said.

We know that most organizations are going to be consuming multiple clouds: clouds running in their data center, in a partner data center, in Microsoft's data centers, and they want one holistic, consistent way to be able to look at all of that and manage all their applications across all of those clouds. So with System Center 2012 you have one place to look at your private cloud, your public cloud. But not only that, you can take a look at different virtualization infrastructures, from Microsoft, from VMware, or from XenServer (sic), and all that gets brought up in one consistent view in System Center 2012.

That's another thing with which VMware will struggle to compete.

Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft's server and tools business, said the company's strategy with System Center 2012 is actually one of "public plus private cloud" rather than hybrid cloud. This does smack of bet-hedging, like "software plus services," but no matter. To that end, Microsoft offers four "public plus cloud" features in its cloud offering:

  • A common identity that can be used across the public and private cloud
  • Virtual machines that can move between the private and public cloud
  • Hybridized applications that can be split across the public and private cloud
  • Management across public and private clouds.

One thing to remember is that -- like Hyper-V 3 -- System Center 2012 has not been released in its final form. That's not expected to happen until the end of second-quarter 2012. So it's perhaps early days to suggest that Microsoft will get the upper hand in its war with VMware over the private cloud. But Hyper-V 3 looks like it will close the gap with VMware's server virtualization technology, and now System Center 2012 looks like it will present a serious challenge VMware's private cloud ecosystem with the advantage of a much lower price.

My guess is that it will do very well indeed.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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