Microsoft steps up virtualisation campaign

Virtualisation latecomer Microsoft has fired another shot in its battle to win market share from dominant player VMWare

Virtualisation latecomer Microsoft has fired another shot in its battle to win market share from dominant player VMWare, but its latest salvo will not win the war. Nor is Microsoft the only challenger.

From September, Microsoftis to relax rules for moving applications from server to server and increase support for IT departments that use third-party virtualisation technology.

The move is intended to reduce licensing complexity and allow organisations greater choice of technology, thereby removing two of the biggest barriers to virtualisation for many organisations, particularly small and medium businesses.

VMWare has consolidated its virtualisation market lead in the past decade as a pioneer of the technology, which allows users to run multiple applications on a single server.

Customer demand for more dynamic data centre environments that use virtualisation to relocate workloads in response to changing needs is the most likely driver of the Microsoft licensing and support changes, according to Neil Macehiter, research director at MWD Advisors.

"The licensing changes are necessary for customers that are looking to move beyond the initial server consolidation use case," he says.

Microsoft may be forging ahead with an overall strategy aimed at establishing leadership in virtualisation in the long term through making it easier to use its applications in the virtualised environment, but it is not the only big supplier competing for market share.

Microsoft's move is really just another indication that competition in virtualisation is increasing rapidly, says David Mitchell, senior vice-president of IT research at Ovum.

The collective virtualisation effort by Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and other suppliers is likely to represent a substantial challenge to VMWare in the year ahead as competition drives greater innovation and lower prices, says Mitchell.

While end users will benefit from these changes, he warns that increased choice could result in confusion as suppliers step up the battle for market share by using fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to undermine the technical credentials of competitors.

Businesses need to prepare for increased competition in virtualisation by ensuring they are clear about what they need and expect from using virtualisation and by keeping up to date with the technologies on offer.

"Buyer education needs to be high to avoid being dragged into FUD and all virtualisation implementations are going to require some careful thinking," says Mitchell.

Kurt Daniel, senior vice-president at virtualisation vendor Parallels, says to be a winner Microsoft needs a live migration tool to take on VMWare's ability to move an application from one server to another with zero downtime.

Microsoft also needs to introduce some good management tools, and although some are in the pipeline, it is unlikely it will be able to match the mature products from VMWare and other suppliers with its first version due out later this year.

Microsoft has quite a bit of ground to make up before it could emerge as the leading challenger to VMWare, but as competition and choice increase, virtualisation decisions could become extremely difficult for businesses that are not armed with the information and knowledge they need.

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