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VMware needs to 'go' further to remain competitive with Citrix, Microsoft

VMware will offer VMware Go, a new management product for ESXi virtual machines, for free. But to stay competitive, VMware should have made vCenter Server free instead.

VMware has long held the reins as the premier virtualization platform provider. Many administrators and engineers have enjoyed success with VMware's products. But this success has not come without a price. Using advanced features such as VMotion, Storage VMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and High Availability (HA) require costly licenses.

With the proliferation of Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer, Microsoft's Hyper-V and, now, Hyper-V R2, VMware would certainly have lost its footing were it not for VMware ESXi free edition, which was released in July of 2008. This was an important move to foster the adoption of VMware's hypervisor among enterprises that have not yet embraced virtualization.

Times have changed. Today's consumer marketplace has evolved into one where users want more and more for free.

Now couple the "I want it for free" attitude with enterprises' current economic situation. Companies often lack the capital for large purchases. With the release of VMware ESXi free edition, enterprises large and small – with and without virtualization expertise -- can freely implement VMware virtualization technologies.

VMware: 'Go' further than VMware Go
And here is where it becomes risky for VMware; XenServer and Hyper-V are also free. What is to say that VMware has a better free offering than the other players? Until recently, VMware offered only VMware ESXi, VMware Server, and VMware Player for free. The capabilities of these products are somewhat limited beyond the task of running a VM.

Citrix and Microsoft offer free products that not only run virtual machines (VMs) but also address issues of host management, guest management, high availability and live migration. Their offerings may not be as robust but, again, are free.

It is obvious that a company cannot survive if it gives all its products away. Unfortunately for VMware, Microsoft and Citrix have deep pockets fueled by offerings unrelated to hypervisors. This gives Microsoft and Citrix an advantage over VMware with regard to their pricing models and adoption rate from users looking to exploit free products.

At VMworld 2009, the company made several announcements, such as VMware Go, its Web-based service designed to configure and control one or more ESXi servers in a limited capacity. Is this a home run for VMware? Not exactly, but it is a start. One of the benefits of VMware Go is that it provides a central location for managing multiple ESXi installations. VMware Go has, at least partially, addressed the need for free central management for ESXi's free edition.

Why a Web service?
Where VMware Go comes up short is that it is a Web service hosted by VMware. Microsoft and Citrix do not require the use of a Web service to manage multiple instances of their free products. Why did VMware go this route? Maybe VMware just isn't ready to do what some believe it should do: give vCenter Server away for free.

There are pro and con arguments for giving vCenter away for free, and I won't cover them here. Let's consider vCenter Server for what it is: a central management point and a platform to enable the other capabilities of vSphere (and VMware Infrastructure 3, for that matter). The greatest value in VMware's offerings are those that leverage VMotion, DRS, HA, Fault Tolerance and so on, and vCenter is required to enable these functions when appropriate licenses are added.

What harm would it do to give vCenter away for free if it can't use the higher-end functionality that comes with additional license purchases? Certainly putting vCenter in more users' hands would foster adoption and enable VMware to keep its footing in the market.

Is VMware Go the answer to adoption? Probably not. Give VMware Go the abilities of vCenter and VMotion, however, and it just might be.

Jase McCarty, Contributor

Jase McCarty (VCP) has worked in IT for 20 years, with experience in academic, military, insurance and financial sectors. He has been using VMware's products since 1999 and has vast experience with Windows, Linux and Unix systems. He currently operates his own blog at, owns a private consultancy and has co-authored two VMware books. He is a 20-year veteran of the Air National Guard, and works for a Fortune 500 company.

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