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Virtualisation vendor rhetoric gives clues for coming year

Virtualisation vendor rhetoric gives clues for coming year

This week's most pertinent discussions have a certain amount of relevance, if only because of what they indicate about the level of fatalism in the virtualisation market and who the various vendors actually think they're competing against.

In the old days-when people read news on paper, used phones they couldn't talk loudly on while sitting next to you on the train, and figured "virtualisation" probably meant to make something less real-late summer was known in the news business as "silly season".

It's the time of year when half the country is on vacation and the rest wish they were and very little of any importance is being done because no one's paying attention.

It was silly because that was the time of year the UFOs and alien babies and bizarre accidents and sightings of Bigfoot showed up in the paper because something had to fill the space between the ads and there were not-as there are now-entire media empires built on those same stories.

As I write this the local news radio station is reporting that a local teenager spotted a large alligator in a local New England lake, though everyone admits it might have been a snapping turtle, or a log. Last week a Denver teenager sparked a massive alarm after photographing an African lion hunting the suburban veldt, before state wildlife officers decided the photos actually showed a member of the relatively benign "big dog" species of lion. So far no UFOs or Bigfeet have been implicated in either sighting, but it's just a matter of time.)

Luckily those of us in the tech press rarely have to worry about silly season stories, though the anti-Windows paranoia of Mac-o-philes and Linuxians offers plenty of opportunity.

Even during downtimes, like immediately after a major Microsoft product announcement, when the industry's hype-generators are exhausted, or during the summer when nothing more exciting than routine hardware product refreshes and odd-but-irrelevant product introductions are going on, you can count on second-tier vendors to keep the technical discussions going.

This week's most pertinent V-discussions - much to my disappointment, actually - have a certain amount of relevance, if only because of what they indicate about the level of fatalism in the virtualisation market and who the various vendors actually think they're competing against.

Citrix, for example, which actually did come out with something interesting last week, keeps CTO Simon Crosby busy being nasty to VMware, while mid-market stalwart Virtual Iron sics chief strategy officer Tony Asaro on Citrix. The rule seems to be to keep the CEOs out of it and let the chief geeks hold the sniping contest, but only by targeting competitors one step up the ladder from oneself.

Crosby shows his mathlete trash-talking skills by claiming VMware's Mike DiPetrillo's criticism of Citrix Xen acquisition shows that DiPetrillo is till out to prove that he finished high school math. Asaro, for his part, calls Crosby ridiculous, irresponsible and antithetical to the open-source philosophy.

DiPetrillo, who carries the title Specialist Systems Engineer-Competition and, apparently, responsibility for making sure the rest of the A/V club stays united behind VMware, spends most of his time making rude gestures at Microsoft which spends most of its time ignoring everyone and just talking about itself.

Asaro does argue effectively that Microsoft has not only not taken over the virtualisation market, but is barely present in it. He relies as evidence on the lack of Microsoft reps or partners actively competing for individual contracts with customers, though, which is misleading.

Of course there are few, if any, Microsoft teams out selling Hyper-V on a project-by-project basis; the code only shipped to manufacturers this month. Even if everyone weren't on vacation, it would take a while to get the meetings set up and the competition heated up.

Microsoft's virtualisation products are pretty low-level (he means the hypervisor), while the bulk of even mid-sized customers are looking for advanced functions like disaster recovery, dynamic reprovisioning of virtual servers, and virtual-machine load balancing. Microsoft has none of those available, he says.

Except that it does. All that stuff is contained in the arsenal of systems management tools Microsoft either already sells or will release along with its Virtual Machine Manager, which is currently in beta testing.

Wait three to six months, Asaro says, and we'll see if Microsoft gains any traction with any customers other than those looking for the most basic functions.

Sounds like whistling past the graveyard to me; more than one well-established vendor has pooh-poohed Microsoft's chances of getting a toehold in a new market only to find itself knocked completely out of contention a year or two later.

Crosby has also spent a lot of energy talking about Citrix' range of virtual server products, while the company itself talks primarily about ways to expand its base of virtual-application and desktop-virtualisation customers.

It wasn't nearly so aggressive before Hyper-V was on the verge of becoming a reality and Citrix execs realised they'd have to do more than just rely on their alliance with Microsoft to hold their position.

The increasingly bitter and personal rhetoric is more than just entertainment for those of us who follow it. It's an indication of the increasing anxiety of the vendors in the market and the increasing potential for panicky behavior.

I doubt we'll see fisticuffs between trade-show booths (entertaining as that would be.) But we might see ill-advised acquisitions, alliances, discounts and special deals as the first-tier vendors (Microsoft and VMware) fight for dominance and the second tier fight for position.

The fight will undoubtedly net customers good deals on products and services, more attention from sales reps with Swords of Damocles hanging over their heads, and lots of offers for "competitive upgrades" that IT managers can use as leverage.

None of it will benefit the vendors at all. Without some major change, the outcome is almost inevitable: VMware will keep most of the customers looking for the most-sophisticated setups (for a couple of years, anyway); Citrix will expand its app and desktop virtualisation businesses, but not as much as it would like; Virtual Iron will hold on to a good percentage of its mid-market virtual-server business, but will be increasingly hard-pressed by the low cost and ubiquity of Microsoft products; Microsoft will sweep up most of the companies that only want to consolidate real servers to virtual servers and much of the market for mid-sized companies looking for higher-functioning virtual infrastructures as well.

That's not as farfetched or entertaining as silly season "news" is supposed to be. It just matches Microsoft's history, the current state of competition in virtualisation and against whom each vendor's vitriol is directed.

Maybe there'll be more substance to it all come September. That would help the actual customers more than all the marketing drivel does. But it won't be nearly as much fun.

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