VMware Gives Microsoft the Touch of Death

Does the new hardware-embedded hypervisor make Viridian obsolete before it ships?

The "touch of death" is a martial art that supposedly allows its practitioner to apply a deadly blow without his opponent even feeling it, sometimes succumbing hours or days later.

Is it possible that server virtualization market leader VMware has dealt Microsoft such a blow?

VMware sought to extend its lead in the server virtualization market with new product announcements this week, all the while preaching cooperation with its most natural rival.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company is expected to face stiff competition in the data center when Microsoft finally ships Viridian, its oft-delayed hypervisor, as part of a future enhancement to Windows Server 2008.

But according to several analysts, the new ESX Server 3i hypervisor, which VMware unveiled Sept. 11, could make Microsofts planned hypervisor obsolete before it even ships.

According to Gartner analyst Tom Bittman, VMware has scored a significant coup by slimming down its ESX Server to 32 MB. This compares to 256 KB for XenSources Linux-based Dom 0 hypervisor and "between a gig and a gig and half" for Microsofts virtualization technology.

"Its about time that [VMware] did it. They had to get rid of the service console… VMware has made Viridian out of date in one move," he said.

Bittman also noted that 80 percent of Microsoft patches to Windows Server 2003 "went to the service console. You have to wonder with Viridian, how often are you going to have to patch that thing?"

IDC analyst Stephen Elliot agreed that Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., has been slow out of the virtualization gate, maybe out of fear that the technology would hurt software license sales.

"Microsoft may not have understood the business model of virtualization. Their executives may have been fearful of the impact of this trend on their core business," he said.


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VMware also announced that all the major hardware server vendors, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have agreed to embed ESX Server 3i as part of the hardware.

Mark Bowker, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, thinks VMware scored a significant victory by saving customers from having to configure their hypervisors when they buy new hardware.

"Microsoft cant do that," Bowker said.

Officially, the line has been cooperation with Microsoft. VMware took pains to announce a proposed virtualization standard on the opening day of its VMWorld user conference in San Francisco, in order to showcase its willingness to play nice with others.

President and CEO Diane Greene also studiously avoided the temptation to tweak Microsoft for being late with Viridian, which the software vendor has stripped out of the first version of Windows Server 2008, itself now delayed by several months.

She also took pains to reassure Microsoft that her companys aim is not to disrupt its business model; virtualization could be seen as a way of reducing the number of software licenses that enterprises need to buy, but VMwares messaging has focused instead on other benefits of the technology, such as helping customers consolidate the number of servers they need to run, more efficient use of the data center and disaster recovery.

In fact, Greene said her company is helping Microsoft.

"We are good for Microsoft licensing," she said. "Were very conservative with their licensing model with customers."

She even downplayed the importance of the hypervisor, saying her company is focusing on value-added services that play off of the technology, such as desktop virtualization and site disaster recovery.

Greene said that 80 percent of VMwares revenue now comes from outside the hypervisor. "Were being very effective at building products that unlock the value of virtualization," she said.

But Greene wouldnt commit to ensuring that those products work seamlessly with Viridian. "It wouldnt make much sense to manage the functionality of other hypervisors," she said. "Well do the prudent business thing, but were not going to spin our wheels."


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