For a major corporate vendor, like Microsoft, `owning’ the customer will undoubtedly be considered the `right’ tactics. It has certainly done the company proud over the last 15-20 years for it now owns the vast majority of desktop and laptop PC users around the world. It therefore makes sense to try the same tactic with the enterprise market, particularly as it moves to a new, virtualised environment.
The trouble is, it does look as though the Redmond Ravishers are applying the tactic to the wrong point-of-pain enterprises will be feeling as they move towards virtualisation. The benefits of the technology are now pretty clearly understood, not just in the cost of ownership terms that niggle away at the souls of IT managers, but also in the increased flexibility and speed of response to changes in markets with which business people will most certainly identify. But most of the technical issues are pretty much sorted now, particularly in Microsoft’s backyard of x86-based servers, and the `sorting’ has been largely done by one company, VMWare.
With Microsoft some still some two years from coming up with anything that would constitute a viable contender for virtualising large x86-based datacentre installations and VMWare already several years down that road, it would look as though the Big M is fighting a totally-lost cause. By the time it gets there VMWare – especially now it has the clout of EMC behind it – will have moved the virtualisation goalposts a long, long way away.
The company’s response, as well analysed by my Register colleague, Ashlee Vance, has been to cut a deal with open source virtualization technology vendor, XenSource and suddenly decide that open source is a damned fine way to do business after years of claiming it was the spawn of the devil. This does look remarkably like a resuscitation of an old trick that was, for many years, the speciality of IBM. In essence, this meant that, every time a rival announced a new product or technology, Big Blue would announce that it was going to do it too, so as to spook users into holding off on the interest and orders, forever try to lever user emotions around that old saying, `no one ever got fired for ordering IBM’.
Given the fact that all is fair in love and market dynamics this is still a reasonable tactic to try, but Microsoft is, I feel, pitching at the wrong target by trying to muscle in on the virtualization piece with someone else’s technology. Important though it is, Virtualisation is just a component part of something much larger. It is also not the piece through which ownership of any enterprise marketplace will come. That piece is the infrastructure management system – and the higher up the management food chain it can be pitched, the tighter the user lock-in will be. Put simply, this is almost inevitable that the levels of complexity involved in such infrastructures will be too great for most user CIOs to do any more than say to a vendor: “Good God, you do it, where do I sign?”
This is, at least in part, why EMC snapped up VMWare, filling out it aspirations in that management arena. It is why companies like IBM and HP are so often the prime contractors on large scale, long term infrastructure implementation projects, and it is why a recent survey
showed that Dell is not a favourite server vendor amongst enterprise users despite its obvious skills at marketing and manufacturing management – not much of a track record at the management piece.
So far as it goes, of course, Microsoft hasn’t got much of one at the infrastructure level either, but it does have Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Operations Manager as building blocks on which to construct something. It also has the money to do exactly what IBM, HP and EMC have done – and continue to do - in building their own management offerings……..go buy the companies producing the right complementary technologies.
That is the area where it can come up with a management package that could give it ownership of a lot of users, for time is also on its side. Yes, IBM, HP, BMC and CA are already well-established in infrastructure management, but for now it is a market largely made up of only the biggest users. There is a vast army of second tier users yet to truly contemplate virtualization. But as soon as they do they will hit the wider issues of managing all those virtualized servers as a single information management and business processing entity; and entity in which virtualization is but a mere artisan in one corner. And they will try virtualization over the next couple of years as the power of multicore, off-the-shelf servers rises inexorably.
That is both a market that will be worth `owning’, and a market already psychologically geared to being `owned’ by Redmond’s finest sons and daughters. Virtualisation? Let VMWare have it.