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It's a Small VMworld After All

With relatively few attendees and even fewer big announcements, VMware's annual show left just one lasting impression: fear of Microsoft.

Here's the most important thing I learned from VMworld San Francisco 2009: VMware Inc. is terrified.

How do I know this? Because it's pushing a cloud-computing initiative that's years away from common implementation and will never be more than a niche technology -- a big niche, potentially, but a niche nonetheless.

VMware wants to be your cloud infrastructure provider. That was what VMworld, held in late August and early September, was about. Problem is, it's nothing but marketing hype. Most companies are barely even starting to think about the cloud in practical, day-to-day terms.

Microsoft Catching Up
If that's the case, why the cloud emphasis from VMware? In a word: Microsoft. Redmond is catching up to Palo Alto in the virtualization space -- and it's catching up fast. VMware needs to look like it's keeping its technology lead; like it's pushing the virtualization envelope even further. And with vSphere last year, that's what happened.

This year, there were no announcements from VMware of real significance. Not like Hyper-V R2 from Microsoft. Not like Windows 7 from Microsoft -- and, by the way, Windows Server 2008 R2/Windows 7 have the building blocks of a very nice virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution. Uh-oh.

Given the lack of electricity -- the dynamic that defined last year's show -- something had to be done. The cloud, with its lofty promises and dreamy visions, fit the bill. VMware's strategy at VMworld was: We'll point to the cloud, talk a lot about the future and hope attendees don't notice the absence of much new to talk about.

For more proof, look no further than the postage-stamp booths given to Microsoft and Citrix Systems Inc. Those 10-by-10-foot booths were laughable. And it went further. If you wanted, like me, a XenServer 5.5 or Hyper-V R2 demo, you were out of luck: VMware outlawed displays of those technologies at its "industry" event. To me, that screamed: "We don't want customers seeing what competitors can do!" Not to mention them seeing how much cheaper those Microsoft and Citrix products are.

Maritz Plays the Bad Cop
VMware CEO Paul Maritz had a very interesting press conference at VMworld. I wouldn't expect vCenter to ever support Hyper-V or XenServer. When asked whether that would happen -- and the questioner noted that Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager can manage ESX -- Maritz danced a little, talking about how VMware's challenge is to support its own product. Then, he tacked on a "if we have enough customer demand, we'll consider supporting Hyper-V in the future" phrase. The message seemed clear enough to me: It isn't happening.

Maritz also said some harsh things about competitors and even about one of VMware's own partners. In answers to separate questions, he said that Microsoft, with live migration added to Hyper-V R2, "is now where we were three years ago."

It's clear, however, that Maritz sees Redmond as a major threat, because he didn't dismiss it the way he did Citrix. He basically said Citrix's XenServer platform, and the suite of products built on top of it, are a non-factor in the industry.

Maritz may want to check that attitude at the door next time. Given that Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf recently listed XenServer 5.5 alongside vSphere as one of only two virtualization solutions that are enterprise production-ready today -- and given the fact that XenServer is less expensive than vSphere -- Maritz may be laughing too soon.

One other comment that struck me at the press conference: Maritz said that there have been about half a million downloads of ESXi, the free, lightweight version of ESX. He said VMware "would like to know what [customers] are doing" with it. Hold on a minute -- you release a product, get tons of downloads of that product and have no idea what the users are doing with it? Shocking. Maybe it's time for some e-mailing and phone calls, VMware. When ESXi was released, VMware called it the future direction of ESX. I wonder if it still holds to that position, given that VMware doesn't seem too interested in seeing how it's being used in the real world.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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