Whoever said it was a crazy, mixed-up world must have had foreknowledge of virtualization technology. Who knew that just a few short years after its invasion of the enterprise server market that virtualization would begin to alter the very foundations of the computer industry itself?
That virtualization severs the traditional bonds between hardware and software is becoming readily apparent as the entire universe of applications, operating systems and underlying platforms continues to be turned on its head. And all this is turning out to be a tremendous challenge for the dominant industry players to maintain their holds over their respective markets.
A case in point is the evolving relationship between VMware and Microsoft. On the one hand, you have virtualization technology usurping the traditional role of the operating system as the key that unlocks the data and applications needed for enterprise productivity. For Microsoft, this is troubling enough when the field is limited to server virtualization, but now VMware is making noise about relegating Windows into obsolescence through desktop virtualization and virtual appliances. If VMware has its way, you'll be able to run any application using any OS on any piece of hardware, any time.
But if you think Microsoft is nervous about this, think again. Although it still holds the OS near and dear, the company is moving quickly to dominate the future virtualization layer with its Hyper-V system. Not only can Microsoft place a tremendous amount of pricing pressure on VMware, but it has the ability to develop a wide range of virtual management systems, virtual desktop products and virtual application delivery software to keep its platform fresh.
That Microsoft feels that it is in a very strong position is evidenced by its recent decision to end its virtual machine licensing requirements for most of its business software. No longer will you have to pay extra to move software from one host to another. This will cut into Microsoft's revenue stream, but apparently not as much as it expects to gain from its new virtual platforms.
And the final twist to this twisted scenario? Microsoft and VMware are starting to work together. VMware has joined Microsoft's Server Virtualization Validation Program to ensure there is a smooth relationship between the ESX Server and Microsoft server applications. The program provides for Microsoft customer support for validated systems, which already include technology from Citrix, Cisco, Novell, Sun and Virtual Iron. So even while they attempt a stranglehold, they still manage to give each other a pat on the back.
Can things get any crazier? Stay tuned.