Microsoft or VMware -- Who's Really Stuck in the IT Past?

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted September 1, 2011

These are tough times for Microsoft, at least when it comes to virtualization.

Here's the problem: VMware stole a march on Microsoft by establishing itself in the server virtualization space before Microsoft was aware of what was going on. That in itself is not particularly remarkable -- Microsoft has a long history of failing to get in early in new fields, but it usually gets up to speed quickly through acquisition or by using its muscle to force the competition out of business.

But VMware (NYSE: VMW) hasn't been so easy to push aside, and if we're going to be honest about it, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) really hasn't made much headway when it comes to the server virtualization space. That's despite introducing its Hyper-V hypervisor as part of its server OS, its System Center Virtual Machine Manager module, Hyper-V Live Migration to compete with VMware's vMotion, and all the rest of the Microsoft server virtualization technology.

But the truth is, if you want to run heavy-duty, mission-critical applications, you run them on Linux or Unix, not Windows Server. In the same way, if you want to do heavy-duty, mission-critical server virtualization, you're going to do it with VMware, not Microsoft's Hyper-V, aren't you? A case in point: How many enterprises are actually carrying out many Hyper-V Live Migrations? Not many, I'd wager. And how many are carrying out vMotions? A lot: An estimated 5.5 vMotions take place every second, according to VMware's CEO Paul Maritz. "There are already more VMs in flight than there are aircraft in flight," he pointed out at VMware's VMworld 2011 in Las Vegas earlier this week.

And to make things worse, VMware is rapidly moving on from plain old server virtualization, busily telling everyone who wants to listen that it is really a cloud computing company. Virtualization is not about server consolidation any more, it's about scalable, automated computing infrastructure. Just when Microsoft managed to tick the majority of boxes for must-have server virtualization features, VMware moved to a new playing field. How is a company like Microsoft with its roots in desktop and server operating systems and productivity software meant to compete?

With parody, apparently. To coincide with all the attention VMware is getting this week in Las Vegas, Microsoft released a video called "Don't get stuck in the IT Past," and very amusing it is too. But will it help Microsoft? I doubt it.

Let's take a look at what Microsoft says in the video about "VMLimited," and its salesman, Tad:

"He works for an organization that's stuck in the past." Excuse me? If this applies to any company it's Microsoft, not VMware.

"When he says he's selling a cloud, he's actually selling nothing more than virtualization." Virtualization is certainly the foundation for the cloud, but there's a whole lot more to it. You might just as well say about Microsoft, with its type 2 hosted hypervisor, that "when it says it's selling virtualization, it's actually selling an operating system. "

But Microsoft does get a couple of hits in:

"With your solution, will I be able to manage other hypervisors?" a prospective VMware customer asks Tad. "No," he replies, nodding his head. You can certainly manage VMware VMs from System Center Virtual Machine Manager, but you can't easily manage Hyper-V VMs from vCenter (although VMware did release a "fling" that allows you to do just that). But I would argue that this lack of support for Hyper-V, and the fact that VMware can get away with not supporting it, emphasizes how insignificant Hyper-V really is. Mac OS X can read Windows file systems, but Windows systems can't read OS X formatted disks because ... they don't need to bother. Need I say more?

"The more you use, the more you pay," Tad tells an incredulous prospect. This one is true too, and, again, it's true because VMware can get away with it. Microsoft might have been better advised to have had a go at VMware for the complexity of vSphere 5's new pricing structure, and the fact that VMware has changed the way it charges from vSphere 4 to 5, and then revised the 5 pricing after its initial announcement. But Maritz -- not usually the most articulate of CEOs -- put this one to bed in Vegas with an unusually effective response: "Any time you try something new, you have to be prepared for feedback. There will inevitably be course corrections," he said. Fair enough.

But at the end of the video, Microsoft's satire backfires on itself spectacularly. The final scene shows Tad outside his mobile conference room, musing on the way virtualization technologies are leading. "Clouds aren't bad, but they're a fad," he opines.

It would make a good bumper sticker, but ask yourself this: If you're serious about moving your company's computing infrastructure into a cloud -- a private cloud or a hybrid cloud -- whose cloud infrastructure would you use: Microsoft's or VMware's?


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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