Microsoft is VMware’s Biggest Threat

By Published On: October 12, 2020

When I interviewed for an Analyst role at Gartner Inc., I had to participate in a panel defense of an unpopular position. I had to show that I could hold my own in conversations with customers, analysts, and vendors. The position? VMware is a developer-friendly organization. 

The interview was about 5 or 6-years ago. A bold argument indeed ensued. However, we’re going to discuss why VMware isn’t considered a community for developers.

Microsoft Envy

Both VMware and Red Hat ($REHL corrected me. It’s Red Hat and not RedHat) desperately wants to be in Microsoft’s position. Microsoft has everything from the entire data center infrastructure to a strong relationship with the developer. When people write code, chances are they are using GitHub, Visual Studio, Microsoft SQL, Dynamics, Windows Server, and of course, Azure. Red Hat can make a claim up to the OS and application development platform. However, chances are Red Hat OpenShift customers use Microsoft tools. VMware is in an even less envious position.

Microsoft has tried a few different times to displace VMware’s position at the top of the private software-defined data center hill. Bundling in a reasonably capable Hyper-V in Windows Server licensing hasn’t placed a dent in VMware’s market share. When Pat Gelsinger took over the reins of VMware, he decided to double down on virtualization. Gelsinger ejected Spring and all the development related products that would become Pivotal. Thanks to Michael Dell, it turns out Pat was throwing a boomerang. Pivotal is now once again part of VMware.

Outside of corporate financial engineering, VMware has a severe problem. The company needs growth. They’ve expanded into Networking, Storage, and Cloud services. However, software is eating the world. VMware ate the data center with software. Now the public cloud does something Microsoft couldn’t, software-defined data center better than VMware. Azure is the ultimate form of the SDDC. Couple AzureStack with Azure and Microsoft has a threatening data center stack. More importantly, Microsoft tells a compelling story of the capability to app builders. To grow revenue to past the current $9B point, VMware needs developers to build sticky applications that leverage VMware technologies.

vSphere doesn’t auto-scale

I recently had a conversation with a newsletter subscriber. We were going back and forth about application development platforms vs. the public cloud. One of the points, as a customer, he wanted a platform to repatriate workloads from the public cloud. It was strictly a financial consideration. Today, if you place SAP into the public cloud, you can quickly repatriate it to the private data center. SAP runs fine on vertically expandable Infrastructure. Operators can’t say the same for applications built for the public cloud.

Auto-scaling is a great example. Autoscaling is a mature cloud feature that enables application developers to increase cloud capacity as demand for the application scales. Once demand subsides, the application releases resources. It’s the elastic part of the public cloud. If you wanted to repatriate such a workload, you need more than vSphere. VMware never bothered with creating a useful API to non-infrastructure application developers.

To enable auto-scaling within vSphere, customers must look toward other Infrastructure as a Service or Platform as a Service solution. To be sure, this was a solved technical challenge. Before Kubernetes, there was no limit to these shims. A list includes Pivotal Cloud Foundry, OpenShift, OpenStack, Euculyptus, VMware’s vRealize, Morpheus Data, and the list goes on and on. The bottom line is VMware never directly solved the problem in a way users embraced. Even the defunct vCloud solution lacked standard developer-centric features.

Enter The Tanzu

Enter VMware’s Tanzu. VMware has been on an acquisition spree outside of Pivotal. Among the acquired companies – Bitnomi, Heptio, CloudHealth, and Blue Medora. VMware is attempting to close the gap between VMware’s infrastructure-centric customer base and customers who develop applications.

Today, the umbrella of services reside under the Tanzu brand. Unlike OpenShift, Tanzu isn’t yet an application development platform. When I last spoke to VMware, the representative was curious about why I focused on application development platforms vs. VMware’s CNCF compliant Kubernetes implementation. It’s because Kubernetes isn’t exciting in itself. At least not to developers. VMware needs to continue to build and acquire companies that better place it with its real competitor, Microsoft. Both Red Hat and VMware have a very long road ahead.

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