As the data center shifts to the cloud, VMware struggles to stay relevant

Virtualization powerhouse belatedly ramps up its cloud offerings, but lags behind both Microsoft and AWS

For years, when you thought of virtualization, you thought of EMC's VMware subsidiary. It's been there from the very beginning, created as a spinoff of U.S. military work to protect computer systems. But VMware's virtualization dominance has been fading as IBM, Microsoft, and others have gained market share even as the virtualization market as a whole has slowed.

The slowdown in virtualization's growth is understandable: The technology is now widely deployed, reducing the opportunities for new deployments. And the shift to the cloud is reducing those new opportunities further as cloud providers offer the workload efficiencies that virtualization in the data center would otherwise deliver.

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To combat this reduced need for additional on-premises virtualization, hardware vendors like Dell, EMC, and Hewlett-Packard have been proposing for several years the use of "convergence" products. For example, EMC and Cisco jointly offer vBlock, a preconfigured set of servers, networking, and storage running VMware software. You can think of it as a pre-built private cloud module for the data center.

Although helpful today, such convergence gear will not keep the data center from moving to the cloud. VMware knows that, so it's been announcing products that put it more in the cloud. One such recent announcement was that last year's vCloud Hybrid Service (a public cloud offering) will be rebranded as vCloud Air. Clearly, VMware is trying to make it feel more like Azure, with all that the latter's sky-blue color name implies.

VMware is also offering Object Storage as extremely scalable and cost-effective cloud storage where you pay as you grow. It also annonunced CloudVolumes, a new way of delivering and managing applications; Project Fargo, a new way of spawning clones of a running VM; and a joint project with chipmaker Nvidia to provide better VDI graphics on Chromebooks. 

But the biggest shift is that vCloud and its related products can now be run in the cloud as SaaS, not only on-premises.

If none of this sounds revolutionary, that's because it isn't. Most of the vCloud's features are already considered standard in the industry. When you compare vCloud Air with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft's Azure, it appears that vCloud Air is lacking. And a surprising number of VMware's recent announcements involved beta projects, not shipping products. VMware loyalists are used to VMware being the pioneer and its competitors playing catch-up, but now the shoe seems to be on the other foot.

Granted, in the on-premises virtualization world, VMWare is still holding strong. But even in that area, Microsoft's Hyper-V, when combined with Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center, has nearly closed the features gap that once yawned between VMware and Hyper-V. The cloud is the new battleground for data center technologies, and Microsoft is way ahead of VMware there.

This story, "As the data center shifts to the cloud, VMware struggles to stay relevant," was originally published at Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.