Microsoft Furious At VMware Virtualization Claims

A war of words in the virtualization space is heating up over what Microsoft says are inaccurate claims being bandied about by market-leader VMware. Microsoft's furious response to a recent VMware video that purports to show crashes in Hyper-V, Microsoft's virtualization hypervisor, could signal the start of a full-fledged battle between the two companies.

Earlier this month, Scott Drummonds, a technical marketing manager at VMware, posted a video to YouTube that depicts a variety of Hyper-V crashes and postulates that Hyper-V is prone to fail under the stress of consolidated workloads. The video, which was produced by one of VMware's benchmarking teams, also suggests that these failures were the cause of an outage that hit MSDN and TechNet in late April.

In a series of blog posts, Jeff Woolsey, group program manager for Windows Server and Hyper-V at Microsoft, responded in scathing fashion, calling the video "defamatory" and challenging VMware to document its testing methodology. Woolsey also denied that Hyper-V was behind the MSDN and TechNet outages, instead attributing it to a 500 percent increase in traffic to MSDN/TechNet subscription sites during the first six hours after Microsoft launched the Windows 7 Release Candidate.

VMware's stance is that the video was made for internal purposes and never should have been made public. However, Bruce Herndon, a manager of one of VMware's benchmarking teams, didn't shrink from the flood of criticism VMware apparently received from the Microsoft camp. He noted that VMware conducted the tests with its VMmark virtualization benchmarking tool and used the fully patched RTM version of Hyper-V.

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"VMmark's methodology is the most well-known and battle-tested benchmarking methodology in the virtualization industry," Herndon said in a blog post.

While two vendors going at each other isn't earth-shattering stuff, the situation underscores Microsoft's growing confidence in the virtualization market.

Earlier this month, Microsoft revealed its intention to release Windows Server 2008 R2 before the end of the year. With that release will come features such as Live Migration, which makes it possible to move running virtual machines from one system to another system without any perceptible downtime; and Cluster Shared Volumes, which offers advantages of clustered file systems.

The sagging economy has also given Microsoft a golden opportunity to highlight how its virtualization technology is baked into the fabric of Windows and is, therefore, less expensive than VMware's products. In fact, Microsoft has for months been hammering the point that VMware represents a redundant separate layer that sits between hardware and the OS.

"VMware sees the world as always virtualized; everything they think about is from a virtualization pivot," said David Greschler, director of integrated virtualization strategy at Microsoft, in an interview.

"We have different views on virtualization: VMware sees it as a separate product, and we see it as part of the operating system. Virtualization is a tremendously important feature, but it's not the only view you should have when building your data center and desktop infrastructure," Greschler said.

Next: How Microsoft Plans To Take VMware Down...

Despite Microsoft's recent progress, VMware has made the most of its head start in the virtualization market. According to Gartner, at the end of 2008, VMware accounted for 89 percent of the virtualization market, compared to 7 percent for Microsoft and 2 percent for Citrix. Of course, Hyper-V has only been available since last July, and R2 looks poised to help Microsoft grab more customers.

At this point in time, however, Microsoft is aware that it can't beat VMware's technology, which is why the company is focusing on pricing and licensing concessions, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft, Kirkland, Wash. "One of Microsoft's primary objectives right now is to gain market share in the virtualization space before VMware attains Google-like stature in the market," he said.

In what's fast becoming a debate with religious fervor, VMware channel partners' stance is that Microsoft won't be able to use price as a market-conquering weapon in virtualization as it has done in other markets. Virtualization, they say, hasn't yet experienced commoditization, and companies that spend more for VMware don't experience buyer's remorse.

"I don't think you can look at cost in isolation. If a virtualized infrastructure is going to save your organization tens of millions of dollars over time, what cost is a few thousand dollars up front?" said Steve Kaplan, vice president of the data center virtualization practice at INX, a San Francisco-based solution provider.

Microsoft Hyper-V isn't as robust as VMware when it comes to enterprise virtualization deployments, and it's not a suitable option for complete data center virtualization, Kaplan added.

Still, the economy is playing right into Microsoft's hands, at least when it comes to companies that are dipping their toes into virtualization for the first time. That's because buying decisions that were previously made on technology are now being driven by financial concerns, according to Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based Microsoft solution provider ITSynergy.

"The IT department may say 'We need VMware', but the executive suite is coming back and telling them to figure out how to do it with Hyper-V," Cocanower said.

Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, an Oakland, Calif.-based solution provider that has a staff of consultants with expertise in Hyper-V and VMware, sees that trend continuing. In the virtualization market, complexity and pricing are increasingly top-of-mind concerns for most companies, he said.

"VMware still accounts for 57 percent of my virtualization business, and I wholeheartedly support that customer base," Morimoto said. "But if a customer wants to switch, I'm not going to walk from the business."