Hoping for a More Open VMware

One of the things we associate with existing IT infrastructure vendors is their determination to go it alone for a major portion of their businesses. Vendor each believe that their solution is the best. They feel that integrating with competing solutions is unnecessary. Oracle and Microsoft were the most well-known examples, happily attracting users with a locked-in architecture and using that dominance to stifle competition. VMware has also exhibited this trait. You may layer additional technologies on top of vSphere, but you cannot put another hypervisor under a VMware product. What we see in open source is a willingness to integrate with other solutions, even competing projects. We are seeing some signs of a change in VMware, but not the dramatic shift that Microsoft has made.

Microsoft has to be the poster child for reinventing its business. For years, Microsoft wanted every computer to run its operating system. As a result, every Microsoft server product and almost every consumer product would run only on top of Windows. In the last couple of years, we have seen a sea change in Microsoft. Microsoft Office is now available on iOS and Android. It even integrates with Dropbox and Box, not just OneDrive. Linux is used to drive the network in the Azure cloud. Microsoft’s .NET is open sourced. Most shockingly, SQL Server will be available on Linux. It seems that Microsoft has realized that other operating systems will always exist—and that it is better to earn money from these platforms than to have competitors earn that money with Microsoft alternatives.

It was a few years ago that VMware mentioned integration with a Citrix product at VMworld. Its Workspace product, now called VMware Identity Manager (VIdM), integrates with Citrix XenApp, allowing published applications to be launched from the VIdM portal. I sat at that keynote and thought that hell had frozen over. VMware had never integrated with a competing product like that; maybe a change was afoot. As it turns out, not so much. This one integration is still there, and from firsthand experience, I know it works. However, we haven’t seen any more integration. The only hypervisor that VMware’s EUC products work with is vSphere. The multihypervisor and multicloud features of DynamicOps are nowhere to be seen in vRealize Automation. Even VMware’s OpenStack product isn’t open enough to work with any hypervisor but ESXi. One reason is to minimize the engineering effort around development and maintenance. But as a “side effect,” this ensures that customers buy more vSphere licenses in order to use the additional products. VMware continues to use its other products to reinforce vSphere’s position in the enterprise.

VMware has admitted that it thinks vSphere revenues have peaked. I hope that it takes this as a sign that protecting vSphere revenues is now a losing game and that a new game plan is needed. What could VMware do? How about allowing loosening the links to vSphere? How about having vCenter manage Hyper-V and KVM hosts? There is definitely an opening in the market for a good management console for clusters of KVM hosts. I would be very interested in a comparison of vCenter and System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), particularly for a customer with a reasonably large estate of VMs. Once vCenter can manage other hypervisors, you get an easier integration point for other products. Horizon Suite and vRealize Automation could both drive KVM or Hyper-V clusters. VMware has said that growth will come from management and cloud products. Supporting other hypervisors will significantly increase the addressable market for VMware’s management products.

The reality VMware faces is that a lot of new investments in IT are for applications with new architectures: new applications developed to run on open, cloud, and container platforms rather than on legacy enterprise platforms. VMware is working hard to remain relevant and get growth out of these new platforms. Both of VMware’s container platform products are based on closed-source, paid-license hypervisors. VMware Integrated Containers (VIC) is based on vSphere. The Photon platform uses a feature-reduced derivative of the ESXi hypervisor. This approach is a stopgap to allow some customers to use VMware platforms to deploy new application architectures. In the medium term, these customer applications will probably end up on the open-source platforms. This is what that they were conceived and designed for.

I hope that VMware is developing a host of products that support modern application deployment onto open-source platforms. I hope that VMware has some of these products available to show off at VMworld, and I really hope that VMware becomes more open to working with competitive products. The reality is that vSphere is no longer the only hypervisor platform for a lot of enterprise customers.

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