Microsoft steps in to VMware's virtualization arena

Multivendor backing gives VMware the edge, at least for now

I recently commented to a Microsoft technology manager, "Hey, we're thinking about doing a shootout-style lab test on something in virtualization."

With neither blink nor breath, he came back with, "We're in."

That's a far cry from the response I would have gotten from the Microsoft of only a few years ago, and it serves as much to illustrate the changes that the company has undergone in that time as the white-hot nature of the virtualization market.

Certainly virtualization is an ultra rock-a-bye-baby darling among Microsoft's new technology moves. Redmond's releases of Virtual PC, and especially Virtual Server, show just how committed the company is to making Windows server administrators not only aware of virtualization's capabilities but downright dependent on them.

All this virtual vehemence from Redmond has necessarily drawn responses from vendors that were already leading in that space, most notably VMware. This EMC subsidiary is still considered the granddaddy of the server virtualization family and the company is not about to let even Microsoft's bulk push it from the perch without a fight.

First VMware launched the extremely well-received GSX Server, recently renamed the VMware Server. This platform has great potential for any enterprise, and it's especially helpful to SMBs looking to get some kind of initial tippy-toe hold on the virtualization space. According to numerous public reviews, VMware Server does a great job there, although there is still a preference to run the ensemble under Linux rather than Windows for performance reasons.

Finally, VMware got really smart and asked for help. By issuing the Ultimate Virtual Appliance Challenge several months ago, the company essentially asked the third-party vendor community to design virtualization appliance platforms for it. And boy, did they; vendor entries came not only from eager startups, but from alliance-worthy behemoths such as HP, IBM, and more. In my opinion, it's one of the best moves VMware has yet made in keeping Microsoft at bay. Nothing slows down a behemoth software platform from a single vendor more than another behemoth software platform backed by a whole bunch of vendors.

VMware also has just released its Virtual Infrastructure platform. I haven't yet seen it in action, but the company describes it as a management infrastructure capable of handling an entire datacenter's worth of virtual server resources from a single console. Not quite clustering but something more like true datacenter automation software.

Frankly, it's this type of application we'd most like to test in our upcoming virtualization shootout. Straight virtual server instances across one or even a few hardware platforms are no longer snazzy enough for me. But testing the capability to manage all the resources available in an entire datacenter's-worth of servers definitely satisfies my snazzy sense.

The only trouble is, while I'm hearing loads about this from the vendor community, I'm not actually seeing that much of it in the user community. So let me put the question out there: Is this how you, our gentle readers, would most like to see a direct virtualization shootout conducted? Or are your concerns still smaller at this stage? E-mail me at and let me know. And please put "Virtualization" in the subject line.