Is the Microsoft-VMware marriage on the rocks?

There are growing signs that VMware is ready to move from a Windows world now that the honeymoon period with Microsoft is over.

One key factor in the explosive growth in virtualization -- and particularly VMware Inc. -- over the past decade was the proliferation of Windows-based applications in the data center. But there are some signs that the long Microsoft-VMware marriage may be on the road to dissolution.

In the early days of virtualization, Windows ruled the computing world. The need for a separate Windows instance for each application -- and often multiple Windows instances for one application -- fed the huge demand for VMs. VMware built the Virtual Center central management server as a Windows application.

In this honeymoon period, VMware virtualization and Microsoft Windows applications came together when x86 hardware capability outpaced Windows' demand for resources with multicore CPUs and lots of gigabytes of RAM. Virtualization allows customers to run multiple independent copies of Windows on one physical server, leading to yet more copies of Windows sold.

There's a chill in the air

Over the last few years, there seems to be some coolness between the two companies.

But, over the last few years, there seems to be some coolness between the two companies. Microsoft built its own Hyper-V hypervisor and, as usual with Microsoft products, the third release is a pretty good product. At the same time, VMware seems to be having an affair with the cloud and software-defined everything, both based on open source operating systems.

The first cracks in the apparently solid Microsoft-VMware marriage appeared when VMware started talking about virtual appliances. Many of these were Linux-based to avoid licensing issues with Microsoft operating systems. Then VMware released a demo of running vCenter on Linux -- followed soon after by the real thing. To add insult to injury, the Linux vCenter appliance doesn't support Microsoft SQL Server as a database, using PostgreSQL or Oracle in its place.

The migration from Windows vCenter to a vCenter appliance will be slow. There are thousands of perfectly fine Windows vCenters, and there is no migration tool to take your current vCenter database to the appliance. This part of the breakup will be long and, for some customers, messy.

The vSphere Web Client builds separation

The VMware infidelity didn't end there; the company is steering its users toward the vSphere Web Client rather than the traditional Windows client. Initially, the Web client required a Windows machine to access it, but support for a MAC OSX client was added. All signs are pointing toward Linux client support soon enough.

Since the hard part of client device support is the VM console, I expect the work VMware has done with HTML5 access in Horizon View will translate into a vSphere Web Client based on HTML5. With an all-HTML5 Web client, any HTML5 browser would work, eliminating the need for Flash or operating-system-specific client plugins. You could manage vSphere from Android and iOS.

A changing View?

View is the VMware product that is most closely tied to Microsoft. It uses Windows servers. It delivers Windows desktops. It requires Microsoft Active Directory. But there are some signs View might not be all Microsoft for much longer.

 For starters, VMware added hardware acceleration for 3-D graphics for Linux VMs. Hardware 3-D acceleration is a feature associated with View to make a VDI desktop work for graphically intense workloads. When was the last time you needed a Linux server to run graphically intense workloads? Most Linux servers don't even run graphical displays because character mode uses fewer resources.

More clues abound: There are public demos of View delivering a Linux desktop that the VMware CTO office has been doing quietly over the last couple of years. I suspect that if people start seriously asking for View to deliver Linux desktops, VMware will be happy to finish putting the pieces together. OSX is a closely related operating system and another candidate for a non-Microsoft VDI desktop.

Will vCAC go to an open source platform?

Another sign is in the vCloud Automation Center (vCAC) product that DynamicOps developed using Microsoft's .NET framework. Now that VMware have acquired DynamicOps and released the product as vCAC, it is migrating from Windows .NET to an open source platform. I suspect it will land on the Java-based Spring framework.

Since vCAC has a relatively small install base, it appears VMware wants to make a quick move to a new platform to minimize the impact. At the moment, there is no way to migrate from vCAC 5.2 to vCAC v6.0, just a fresh install.

Is this the beginning of the end?

While VMware got its start thanks to Microsoft, it seems the union has run its course. To be fair, I don't think Microsoft ever felt beholden to VMware.

Rumor has it VMware turned down Microsoft's purchase offer and accepted EMC's proposal instead. I don't think this indicates there is any acrimony from VMware; support for Windows guests and Windows clients is important. I cannot see either going away.

But all the recent changes from VMware indicate the virtualization company is branching out in recognition that Windows is no longer the only game in town.

This was first published in March 2014
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