The Beginning of the the End of the Era of Windows?

At VMware’s annual Partner Exchange Conference during his keynote address, Paul Maritz CEO of VMWare said, “One way to look at it is that year there were more copies of Windows or Linux that didn’t touch the hardware than there were that did. This means one of the traditional roles of the operating system, which is to coordinate the underlying hardware, has been taken over by the new layer… a layer that we are collectively laying down. This is the beginning of the end of the era of Windows and Windows centric devices.”

We first wrote about the competition between Microsoft and VMware in VMware and Microsoft Race to Make Each Other Irrelevant, back in June of 2009. We have written about this issue numerous times in the last few years including:

So whether you have read all of the above linked articles or not, the bottom line is this. Where VMware is with respect to Microsoft right now is that VMware has captured two of the crucial layers of the systems software business in the enterprise data center. Those two layers are the layer that interfaces to hardware (the “device drivers to the data center”), and the layer of systems software that allocates resources between workloads (in the most coarsely granular case – a workload being a guest OS and its host applications).

But for VMware to declare that it is going to precipitate the demise of Windows it must accomplish something far more difficult and grandiose than all it has done to date. VMware must become the provider of the applications platform and via that platform the API’s that developers write applications to.

Accomplishing this last objective means that VMware must find a way to spin up an entirely new business within itself. Applications platform decisions are made by developers, a set of people that even with the vFabric/Springsource assets, VMware has a tiny fraction of mind-share with in comparison with Microsoft (.NET), Oracle/BEA, and Apache/Tomcat. In VMware Executive Management Team Changes – The Implications, we discussed the importance of Tod Nielsen’s new role as the head of the Applications Platform group at VMware, as it is this group that will have to take vFabric and its companion products and make it into a serious competitor to Microsoft .NET, SQL Server, and Windows Azure.

The Microsoft Windows Azure PaaS Cloud Response

At the end of the day, this war is not just about who had the mindshare of the developers who are building the next generation of applications. This war is also about who provides the stack of software upon which those applications will run. It is here that VMware will run into its stiffest competition from Microsoft. Because Microsoft in the process of transitioning Windows from an on-premise operating system to a Platform as a Service (Paas) Cloud.

The Windows Azure cloud requires that you write support for certain aspects of Azure into your application (for example to support elastic scaling, and availability), but it is based upon .NET and Microsoft SQL Server and is therefore an environment familiar to hundreds of thousands of developers.

It appears that Windows Azure will be offered in three ways. Microsoft is obviously offering a version that it hosts itself. Microsoft is also working with hosting partners, allowing them to offer their own Windows Azure clouds. And finally Windows Azure can be purchased by enterprises as a software appliance that runs on a tightly specified set of hardware.

Microsoft will also leverage every asset that it has ever built around Windows and .NET development to help customers transition applications into Azure. It will be possible for authentication to Azure to be handled entirely by an enterprises’ Active Directory installation meaning that users will be able to sign onto their corporate accounts and then have access to internal applications, Azure hosted applications, and mashups of the two without actually having to know or care where these applications are in fact running.

SQL DAC is a new technology that will allow the meta-data and the data from a SQL Server to be packaged up and moved to another SQL Server in more or less one step. This will greatly facilitate the migration of data from internal SQL Servers to ones hosted in Windows Azure clouds.

Finally Microsoft has a huge advantage due to its thriving and market leading position as a systems software vendor (Windows), an applications platform (.NET), a database server vendor (SQL Server) and the vendor of a development tool for these environments (Microsoft Visual Studio).


While we may well be on the road towards VMware becoming the layer of software that talks to the hardware in the data center – removing Microsoft from that role, this is not the end of Windows. If Windows were just an OS, it would be severely threatened by VMware’s insertion into the data center stack. But Windows is not just an OS. Windows is also a market leading applications platform that with .NET has a far greater market share and base of developers than vFabric. Windows is also in the process of becoming a PaaS cloud – one that will be living at Microsoft, at thousands of hosting providers, and at probably every enterprise that is a significant Microsoft customer. This incarnation of Windows is at the beginning of its life, not the end.