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Microsoft Out to Bloody VMware & Leave Scars

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Microsoft Out to Bloody VMware & Leave Scars

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Microsoft’s cannon started pounding away today at the walls of the market fortress that VMware, the established leader of server virtualization, has built.

They went off earlier than they were supposed to by a day when Forbes tripped over an embargo, releasing all and sundry in the press from their collective timing promises.

It will take months for this week’s fusillade, the results of Microsoft’s Virtualization Deployment Summit in Redmond, to clear enough to see if any of the mortars scored a direct hit because Microsoft’s repeatedly delayed retort to VMware, the free, catch-up, first-generation Widows Server 2008 hypervisor widgetry called Hyper-V still won’t be out until at least August, according to Microsoft, six months after the also delayed Windows Server 2008 is finally released in February.

In the meantime, Microsoft’s assault is sure to send shudders through VMware’s $31 billion market cap – already down 35% from its October high on concerns over possible competition – if for no other reason than the market is so darn skittish these days.

The ammunition Microsoft is using against VMware includes an acquisition of a California desktop virtualization start-up called Calista Technologies Inc.; an expanded alliance with Citrix that co-ops XenSource, the open source rival of VMware that Citrix recently bought even more than it already was; price cuts for large accounts running Windows in virtual machines; and the reversal of a policy banning consumer versions of the Vista operating systems, Home Basic and Home Premium, from being virtualized.

VMware claims to be leagues ahead of Microsoft and virtually unassailable. It is supposed to have 80% of the market.

Microsoft says, tut, tut, the market is still small and VMware’s grasp of it is narrow – less than 10% of servers – and even fewer desktops – are virtualized because other people’s virtualization is too complicated and cost-prohibitive.

Microsoft means to change the market’s size and economics and, arguing strategic advantage, claims its soup-to-nuts desktop-to-data center approach is more comprehensive than its competitor’s, and unique in addressing virtualization at the hardware, application and – especially – management levels.

Remember? Microsoft bought Softricity’s SoftGrid for application virtualization widgetry in July 2006 and is supposed to have sold four million copies.

Anyway, Microsoft has in mind a single set of management tools for both physical and virtual computing and means to separate the various layers involved in virtualization to suppress restricting dependencies.

Microsoft calls its vision Dynamic IT as it explained to 300,000 customers and partners in an e-mail sent out today arguing its case for an integrated approach, and saying that it believes that “server virtualization will become ubiquitous” – a Pavlov’s bell to Microsoft – and that virtualization is the way to self-aware computers that “adapt automatically as business conditions change.”

Microsoft’s emphasis this week is on the desktop, where it figures VMware is weak. The purchase of barely two-year-old Calista and Calista’s patent pending widgetry should give Microsoft the ability to make a virtual desktop seem more like a local desktop – particularly when it comes to fancy stuff like rich media, video, Flash and 3D graphics – meaning Vista’s Aero interface is no problem – and speed things up – despite virtualization’s endemic overhead – by optimizing Microsoft’s own RDP 5.x protocol.

Calista’s web site says it can accelerate data as much as 20x and eliminate the need for media player software – a point the European Commission might want to make note of – as well as eliminate software codecs – which ought to make the codec-challenged Linux folks happy.

It’s supposed to integrate into three possible virtual desktop architectures: multi-user virtual machine servers from VMware, Xen and Citrix; single-user blade servers from HP and IBM; and multi-user Terminal Server environments.

Microsoft hasn’t disclosed what it paid for the venture-backed start-up and its compression technology though one analyst took a shot and figured it was less than $100 million. Calista is backed by Greylock Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners and quotes IDC predicting desktops using virtualized client computing will hit around 40 million seats by 2011.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has also tightened the screws on its axis with its old friend Citrix, which is now supposed to develop a tool that blithely transfers VMs between the XenSource’s XenServer and Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V for the sake of interoperability.

A test version of the tool is due next quarter and the final version when Hyper-V ships.

Of course VMware already does this via a free utility.

But Microsoft and Citrix are also supposed to co-market widgetry based on Windows Server 2008 and Windows Optimized Desktop extended, they said, with the XenDesktop and Citrix’ Presentation Server.

However unlikely, according to Microsoft insiders, Forbes speculates that Microsoft might eventually buy Citrix, which currently has a market cap of $6.4 billion.

Microsoft says it will also cut the price of the Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop that enterprises buy under their Software Assurance plans to run virtual desktops. It will go from $78 per user a year to $23.

Microsoft will let customers virtualize different versions of Office on the same machine too – to wit Office 2003 and Office 2007.

And in an about-face Microsoft changed its mind again and decided to let low-end consumer versions of Vista be virtualized. It previously argued that such a thing would create security issues. There is no talk of that now.

The concession means that the lifespan of older applications that will never make the jump to Vista will be extended. And Microsoft will be able to pick up a few bucks in the process. It also means that Mac and Linux boxes can run Vista without paying a premium price for a one of the Vista business editions.

Microsoft says it will update its end-user license agreements (EULAs) to reflect the change.


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