Analysis Few people outside of the server virtualization debate have encountered the mutual dislike that Microsoft and VMware have for each other. However, the spat between the two software makers has started edging closer to the general tech public due to events transpiring this week. And this is the kind of squabble that you want to start watching because both companies have abandoned subtle jibes in favor of blunt smacks to the face.
The move that really got things going was Microsoft's press release this week announcing a partnership with software maker XenSource. Given that Microsoft has referred to open source projects as "cancerous" in the past, it seemed rather odd for the company to take the trouble of issuing an entire statement celebrating a relationship with a rival that bases its whole business around the open source Xen package. We'd love to see a list of all the Microsoft press releases that have cheered an open source company in the past. Such a list can't be very long.
If Linux is full-blown cancer, then Xen has to be the equivalent of a colon polyp. The immature code has the potential to become a favorite among server administrators looking to carve up their systems into different partitions that can run both Windows and Linux - and even Solaris. Potential is the key word here since VMware has spent the last few years gobbling up the vast majority of the server virtualization market.
It doesn't take a Think Week to figure out that VMware's success triggered Microsoft's embrace of the Xen polyp. Microsoft has agreed to let Xen-wrapped Linux run on the upcoming version of its own server virtualization software due out in 2008 as an update to Longhorn Server. In addition, Microsoft will provide technical support for the Xen-infected Linux tumors growing out of its server OS.
Close observers will say there isn't much technological meat to this announcement. Who cares if Microsoft will run Xen-wrapped Linux guest operating systems? The fact is that Microsoft, VMware, XenSource and a host of other players will all be selling server virtualization products and hoping to win more than their fair share of the market. It's not like Microsoft is going to give XenSource a huge helping hand in the long-run.
The meat here comes from the publicity Microsoft has thrown XenSource's way. Microsoft's most unusual press release - with star EVP Craig Mundie in it no less - served to legitimize XenSource in the near-term and to rattle VMware.
Microsoft knows it can't compete with VMware in any real sense with its current Virtual Server product. It has to wait until 2008 for its fresh effort code-named Viridian to arrive. But if things continue as they have until 2008, the server virtualization market will be a lost cause for Microsoft.
With the mighty EMC behind it, VMware pulled in a whopping $157m during the second quarter on the back of 73 per cent year-over-year growth. We're talking about a $630m a year company with no signs of slowing down. VMware is looking a lot like the Microsoft of x86 server virtualization.
We're betting that Microsoft hopes XenSource can slow the VMware juggernaut, giving the coders in Redmond enough time to cram Viridian into Longhorn Server. Microsoft is betting that putting its name behind XenSource now will boost the start-up's near-term chances. And it would seem VMware knows what Microsoft is up to.