Microsoft: VMware customers are 'Windows customers first'

Microsoft-VMware rivalry heats up heading into VMworld

Microsoft targets VMware customers as it prepares for VMworld.

Microsoft rarely finds itself in second place, but Microsoft's head of server virtualization says he doesn't mind playing catch-up to VMware in the hypervisor market.

For one thing, Microsoft's Mike Neil notes that Hyper-V's market share is growing faster than VMware's, and says "that's a good position for us to be in." A skeptic might say outpacing VMware's growth isn't much of an achievement, because Microsoft is starting from a far smaller user base, and gets easy access to customers by offering Hyper-V as a component of Windows Server.

VMware vs. Microsoft vs. Citrix

But Neil expresses confidence for another reason, simply that VMware customers are by and large also Windows customers. Microsoft and its virtualization partner Citrix have repeatedly butted heads with VMware, notably by pulling out as sponsors of last year's VMworld conference after claiming that VMware unfairly limited competition at the show. h 

But Microsoft will maintain a limited presence at VMworld in San Francisco Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, as it did last year, and make its pitch to VMware customers. VMware, by the way, is led by CEO Paul Maritz, a former Microsoft official.

"The vast majority of people running VMware are running Windows," says Neil, general manager of Microsoft's server virtualization and Windows Server division. "That's the reason I go to something like VMworld. People who are running Windows are running it on top of VMware and I want to make sure they're having the best experience they can. From our perspective, regardless of whether customers are running on Hyper-V or VMware, first and foremost they're a Windows customer."

Neil made the comments during an interview at last week's Burton Group Catalyst conference, which featured a little bit of sparring between VMware and its rivals Microsoft and Citrix.

Citrix CTO Simon Crosby was quite outspoken against VMware, taking shots on-stage at the company's security model and writing in a tweet that VMware's SpringSource general manager Rod Johnson's speech was "patently nonsensical." 

"He's a competitor," Johnson said of Crosby, during an interview. "I wouldn't argue with Simon about virtualization, but he probably shouldn't argue with me about Java and middleware."

On stage, Crosby said the Xen virtualization security model has proven its capabilities in the Amazon cloud, while Neil said VMware has acted irresponsibly by attempting to take antivirus agents out of guest operating systems, in effect moving security to the hypervisor layer.

VMware senior director Allwyn Sequeira clarified that VMware's official position does not recommend taking antivirus tools out of guest operating systems, but he did say that running antivirus in every guest OS is inefficient. Sequeira also said that open source software such as Xen isn't automatically more secure than proprietary systems such as VMware's. Crosby pounced on this statement, noting that VMware's SpringSource software is based on open source.

"He told you that SpringSource is not secure. SpringSource is not ready for the enterprise," Crosby said.

The comment seemed primarily to be a joke but is indicative of tensions between VMware and its rivals heading into VMworld. Last year, Microsoft claimed new VMworld rules prevented it from exhibiting its System Center Virtual Machine Manager technology at the conference, which VMware hosts, but set up a small booth on the show floor anyway.

VMware's new rules prevented vendors from sponsoring VMworld if they are not members of VMware's Technology Alliance Partner program, but VMware said the rule should not have prevented Microsoft from exhibiting competing products.  

VMware said the rule changes were spurred by Microsoft "shenanigans" in 2008, when Microsoft gave attendees poker chips in a package that said "Looking for your best bet? You won't find it with VMware."

Conflicts aside, Microsoft and VMware have to work together because customers use the two companies' technologies in tandem. A VMware customer may not want to virtualize Windows with Hyper-V, but that customer is still using Windows.according to IDC.  

As such, VMware's hypervisor has been certified to work on Windows technology, and customers can call either VMware or Microsoft in case of system failures. "We have mechanisms between the two companies, we can hand off technical support issues between the two companies," Neil said.

Use of Hyper-V has more than doubled in the past year, but it is still only the third most used hypervisor, after two VMware products: VMware ESX and VMware Server,

While Microsoft has been outspoken in its criticism of VMware, Neil blamed VMware for much of the conflict.

"Obviously VMware has taken sort of an anti-Microsoft stance, they don't want to be a partner of ours in the traditional sense," Neil said. "But like I said it's the same set of customers, so we're going to talk to them regardless." 

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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