Microsoft "ate VMware's lunch." Apparently.
At least that was what Kevin Turner, Microsoft's COO, told the great and the good at the company's recent Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington D.C.
He was evidently in fighting form, reportedly telling all those willing to listen that Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization technology is superior to VMware's, that it is four times cheaper, and that as a consequence, Hyper-V's market share is on the rise while VMware's is declining.
From what Turner was saying it seems pretty evident that VMware is history, and that the future of virtualization technology is Microsoft's. "All Your VM Are Belong To Us," to paraphrase that famous meme.
Just Because Microsoft Says Something Doesn't Make It the Truth
Except that it's good business practice to remember that just because Microsoft says something, it doesn't mean it's actually true.
Like businesses won't adopt the iPhone because it doesn't have a keyboard. Or that Windows Phone will succeed because people want a single UI across desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile platforms. Or that the Zune had a chance in hell of succeeding… Well you get the idea. I could go on and on forever.
So let's take a good look at what Turner was on about. In his presentation Turner showed a market share slide which claimed that – since Q3 2012 – Microsoft's virtualization market share has grown faster than VMware's and now stands at 30.6% compared to VMware's 46.4%. He added that VMware's market share has fallen in that period – from 51.5% to 46.4% – a decline of 5.1 percentage points, while Microsoft's has gone up 4.6 percent.
It also implied that Microsoft's market share since Hyper-V's release in Q1 2008 has grown from nothing to 30.6%, while VMware has grown just 6.3%.
Now Here's Where Things Get Tricky
But here's where things get a bit tricky. VMware's market share is actually 56% — at least that's what it was measured at by IDC's Server Virtualization Tracker in Q4 2013. Microsoft's was just 26.4%. IDC measures installed base rather than quarterly shipments.
And what about those claims of lower costs? One thing we know for sure is that you can pretty much make out the costs of a product to be whatever you want, depending on what you choose to include in the cost calculations and what you leave out.
So with careful choices made, you can almost always make your product cheaper than your competitor's, and indeed Microsoft is famous for this. Making the argument that its proprietary solutions are cheaper than open-source solutions, using certain carefully selected assumptions, is a good example.
It's no surprise then that a case can be made for Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor-based solution being a quarter of the price of VMware's. But is Microsoft comparing like with like and making sensible, realistic assumptions for the comparison?
VMware Fires Back at Microsoft
Not according to Eric Horschman, VMware's director of product marketing, who hit back at Microsoft by saying "Microsoft considers only software costs in their comparisons."
He went on to point out that the Redmond company had ignored the costs of the physical infrastructure needed to support VMs. VMware's greater efficiencies from better memory management and better VM load balancing allow more VMs to be hosted on a given server — greater VM density in other words — Horschman said.
He added that VMware's vCloud Suite offers customers significant savings when compared to Hyper-V with System Center — Microsoft's management suite that includes Virtual Machine Manager — and pointed out that to run a private cloud Hyper-V users need to add third-party software to System Center to make it feature equivalent to vCloud suite.
"Those software costs will substantially boost costs of a Microsoft platform," says Horschman.
The idea that Hyper-V is as technically proficient as VMware's server virtualization solution was also met by others with a degree of incredulity, not least in the blogosphere. As an example, here's what Anthony Spiteri had to say:
"Microsoft Hyper-V is not the equal or superior to VMware's ESXi! … I would challenge anybody to sit someone who has had zero exposure to the virtualization market to evaluate both Hyper-V and ESXi side by side… without bias or without prejudice there is no doubt in anyone's mind that no logical person would choose Hyper-V as the better hypervisor platform over ESXi.
"It's that simple!"
In practice things are rarely that simple, and the truth is that the two company's products are not identical, and they don't cost the same.
This means that for some purposes WMware's ecosystem is the best choice, and for other, probably less demanding, purposes Microsoft's makes better sense. It's not just about features — it's about staff expertise, current and future requirements, costs, and much more.
And as VWmare's and Microsoft's virtualization platforms continue to develop, they become more or less attractive to certain types of customer.
That means that while Microsoft may have eaten some of VMware's lunch, VMware undoubtedly will — either now or in the near future — be eating some of Microsoft's dinner.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.