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2015 was VMware's Year of Living Dangerously

El Reg's virtualisation desk casts its eye over VMware and pals' prospects for the new year

Server virtualisation just works, so most IT shops do it. And in the decade since it rose to prominence VMware has ruled the roost.

But 2015 was VMware's year of living dangerously.

At first glance, things look fine for Virtzilla: vSphere 6.0 emerged to applause and swift adoption. Dollars rolled in through the door. A credible strategy emerged for containing containers in virtual machines. NSX became a hit in ways VMware hadn't imagined.

Best of all for VMware, Microsoft decided the next version of Hyper-V wouldn't emerge until deep into 2016.

Which is not to say VMware has had things its own way. The EMC/Dell deal and the speculation that preceded it introduced uncertainty to VMware's world. The deal itself didn't help when it - pardon the pun - clouded the future of vCloud Air.

Nutanix decided it needed to make itself a competitor to VMware as well as a partner, with the Acropolis hypervisor. The hyperconverged company is attacking VMware on price and scalability. A blog brawl between the two companies left neither looking smarter or more credible.

Nutanix, along with AWS and Citrix, took another piece out of VMware in Washington. Virtzilla spent much of 2014 saying it was mere weeks away from securing a colossal US government deal for vSphere, but couldn't deliver in 2015. The three companies mentioned above complained about the deal on competition grounds and the Feds abandoned it, saying it was time to re-consider virtual procurement plans.

VMware later paid Uncle Sam a hefty fine to settle allegations of price list shenanigans. VMware may still sell the same amount of code to Washington and may secure more money for it under fragmented deals, but the fact remains it didn't and couldn't deliver on a deal it told the markets to expect, in part because Nutanix turned frenemy.

HP became another frenemy after deciding Azure is a more worthy bet than the hyperconverged EVO:RAIL platform, no matter what all concerned will say about customer choice and horses for courses.

EVO:RAIL was also done wrong: VMware had to upscale the hardware and change licences to make it saleable, a mis-step to place alongside its initial flubbing of VSAN hardware.

While we're on VSAN: is it a business? VMware's mentioning hundreds of customers, a decent number but not the signs of a runaway success or a massive dent in array sales that would signal virtual storage is on the way up.

Among other virtualisers, the Xen Project endured a horror year as bug after bug appeared. The Project has promised to do better in future but is struggling to meet its own standards.

Honourable mentions in the virty caper go to OpenBSD, which gained a native hypervisor. Parallels' transition to become Odin, then finding its Virtuozzo platform spun out by new owner Ingram Micro, means uncertainty for a niche product. Huawei got into the hyperconverged game, advancing its virtualisation ambitions along the way.

Oracle decided that virtual computing isn't as marketable as private clouds, so re-named its virtual computing appliance to suit the times. Citrix endured a difficult time with execs leaving and unpleasant financials, but at least its virtualisation plans - support the Xen products, don't bother fighting for mainstream server virtualisation market share - seem to have worked.

OpenStack kept adding to an impressive user list, but couldn't escape worries about complexity and the project's sprawling ambitions. We've also heard that while OpenStack might be winning the branding wars, rival-but-seldom-discussed CloudStack might be more widely deployed.

What will 2016 bring?

We're also hearing it's getting harder to turn a quid selling or servicing OpenStack. Which if true will be a fascinating development to watch in 2016.

But not as fascinating as just how Dell handles VMware. Michael Dell gets VMware's mission to become an operating system for the data centre and says he gets the need for VMware to be independent. Will others? Again, HP's actions in aligning itself with Azure look ominous.

Windows Server 2016 is the virtualisation wild card. Microsoft's not saying much about the version of Hyper-V that will accompany it. Talking up catchup features like PCI passthrough suggest it's not going to revolutionise server virtualisation.

But Windows Server could mean big change for hybrid cloud. Microsoft looks more interested in deep integration between Windows Server and Azure every day. Windows Server 2016 will have a fine hybrid cloud story to tell, at scales and with a data centre footprint VMware's vCloud Air can't replicate without involving partners.

Hybrid cloud is increasingly being seen as a phase to go through for all but those enterprises that have special requirements for on-premises kit. Such enterprises represent plenty of opportunity, but are a shrinking subset of the market. VMware could continue to dominate a lucrative on-premises rump even as its cloud becomes a sideshow, maybe making vSphere less attractive overall.

We also keep hearing hints AWS will get serious about hybrid cloud. And let's not forget that Google's hired VMware's former CEO Diane Greene, seemingly for the expertise she gained in building proper enterprise sales organisations when building Virtzilla.

So while the virtualisation market was remarkably calm in 2015, there are surely busier days ahead. The Register's virtualisation desk will be there to cover whatever happens in 2016, and beyond. ®

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