Tale of the Tape: VMware vs. Microsoft Windows Azure

Jeremy Sherwood

UCC Tale of the Tape 3 In the 3rd Fight of the UCC (Ultimate Cloud Championship), we see two unusual contenders: VMware and Microsoft Windows Azure. It might seem strange to have them as fighters in a cloud championship battle since they are more enablers than cloud vendors. 

Let me start with VMware.  VMware is the founder of Cloud Foundry, vCloud Services market place, as well as the leading Hypervisor in the world; you can’t not put them in the ring.  So, what makes VMware a good fighter you might ask? Well, everyone is watching to see what they are going to do with the big squeeze that is being put on them by AWS and IBM. 

The fact that AWS, IBM, Red Hat, Microsoft, and others are all looking to see your next move tells me that it is one of the most anticipated moves.    The fact that VMware has been and continues to be the leader in virtualization for so long, defending their title only makes sense.

During the CRN XChange Solution Provider 2013 conference in Orlando a couple weeks ago, Frank Rauch, Vice President of VMware’s Americas Partner Organization, said his company has identified three key markets for 2013. Those markets include software-defined data center, or data center automation platforms; hybrid clouds that combine public and private cloud offerings; and mobility and mobile device management.

In addition, Rauch told the solution provider audience that VMware will be making a major hybrid cloud announcement sometime in the next 30 days. (Which they did. VMware Hybrid Cloud. Not really new but new in a way.) Now this counter punch may be perfect timing with IBM’s big announcement and adoption of OpenStack earlier this year. 

I honestly believe VMware should have put out their own cloud offering sooner.  VMware is running into some minor issues with the announcement of their Hybrid Cloud.  In the cloud battle, it will make things very interesting.

How well will VMware cloud get adopted? Will it be just a “me-too” or a real contender? VMware strengths also are a potential weakness.  When VMware goes head to head with any of the other hypervisors, there isn’t much of a fight, in my opinion.  VMware owns the market and will for the foreseeable future, which plays to a big strength: market share and a greater chance for cloud interoperability.

However, one of the weaknesses I see in that position is you have to continue to one-up the competition. Since we have really moved beyond the virtualization age and more to a cloud age, the value of the hypervisor becomes less and less important when any hypervisor can do.  Also against VMware is the fact that other competing hypervisors have enough “good enough” features for free of charge. 

It begs the question: how important is the hypervisor layer?  For the service providers however, the hundreds to thousands of them that use VMware have to look at answering the same question: is giving up little margins to use VMware worth it?  With VMware now competing with the same service providers that have been supporting them, it provides mixed feelings for the service providers .  On one hand, it will be a blessing, enabling them to compete with AWS much more aggressively.  On the other, it is kind of like getting bitten by the hand that feeds you.

Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds I also see a potential weakness in VMware in that, in my opinion, they are starting to be driven like a puppet instead of a puppet master. Puppet Master (Image Source Credit) What I mean by that is because VMware is owned by EMC, and with the recent CEO appointment last year of Pat Gelsinger who led EMC Information Infrastructure Products as President and COO, it makes you wonder; who is really driving the direction?

As of 2008, both the original founders, Diane Green and Mendel Rosenblum, were fired and replaced by former Microsoft Executive Paul Maritz who stepped down last summer, for an EMC man.  Just makes you wonder.  Granted, Scott Devine is still on board as the original Principal Engineer, but the rest of the team is long gone. Just like with mixed martial arts, a lot of the success and failure in a fighter’s career has to do with his managers and coaches.  Changing them up for a different strategy could destroy the fighter.  If you’re winning, and winning big, you generally don’t change the formula.   All in all, VMware is still a great contender. It will be interesting to see how they fare as the years go on.

In the other corner, you have Microsoft. The part that makes Microsoft so interesting as a fighter is that it is Microsoft.  They own the office suite space, they still own the personal computer OS space by a large margin. As of February 2013, according to NetMarketShare. OS Adoption One of the concerns I have with Microsoft as a fighter in the cloud championship is that they battle on so many fronts: IIS vs. Apache, Hyper-V vs. ESXi, Windows 8 vs. OS X or Linux, Xbox vs. PlayStation, Microsoft Dynamics vs. SAP, on and on goes the list.  Granted, Microsoft has for years now tried to use its position not as a weakness, but as a strength. 

It’s the “One Stop Shop” approach.  I see the wisdom in attempting to be the “jack of all trades and almost master of a few” in Microsoft’s case. The first blow, however, in the cloud battle between VMware and Microsoft has to do really with Azure.  Microsoft has taken an early lead by having a PaaS (Platform as a Service) offering and now extending Azure into an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) offering.

Being the first of the hypervisor companies to really put out a public cloud can be a good thing.  (Yes you could argue Xen, KVM and even VMware could be first depending on your point of view.) It also comes with its bumps and bruises, being one of the first.  As we have seen with Windows Azure and the “leap year” outage, and with the recent outage again this February, outages have not proven helpful to the cause. Microsoft has done a nice job in the battle for clouds with Azure and quickly lining up good customer case studies that showcase how well it can work. 

Microsoft isn’t new to the online service business, which plays as a strength for them.  With Office365, and other services, Microsoft claims 100,000 businesses are using its various online services they provide. Lastly, Microsoft is Microsoft, and they pay to play. They don’t hold their punches in marketing or in finding performance edges to talk about. 

For example, there was a great article last month about Microsoft Azure outperforming Amazon Web Services S3 storage. “Even though Azure has not been in the market as long as S3 and does not have nearly the same volume of storage under management, it is clear that Microsoft’s investments in Azure are starting to pay dividends and that the technology they are providing to the market is second to none.” A

ccording to a Nasuni white paper. Whether Microsoft is paying to take punches at AWS or at VMware, they have the funding and talent to compete in the cloud championship. Ding-ding, let the battle begin. Read the other UCC match-ups: AWS vs. Google RackSpace vs. Terremark CenturyLink/Savvis vs Citrix

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