by Kevin Fogarty

Microsoft, VMware: Time to Get Back to Helping Customers

Sep 23, 20084 mins

Microsoft's recent marketing shenanigans have been entertaining, but now it's time to go back, fix licensing issues, get products to work together and quit wasting customer time on childish stunts, even if they're funny. n

Burton Group’s Drue Reeves posted an amusingly indignant blog about Microsoft’s guerrilla marketing shenanigans at VMworld last week.

Though Microsoft was present in a booth on the VMworld show floor, Microsoft claimed it had been largely shut out of presentations and other in-person marketing opportunities at VMworld (no surprise, considering VMworld is a single-vendor show and that single vendor is the one in Microsoft’s crosshairs right now). So it sent flunkies out to hand out as many as 4,000 cards and $1 casino chips to VMworld conference attendees touting Microsoft’s virtualization solution and a web site called VMwareCostsWayTooMuch.

Among the gems on the Web site is the question “are companies switching from ESX to Hyper-V,” which Microsoft answers by linking to a Microsoft-written case study about a tiny company in Norway it says did, indeed, switch. Never mind that “switch” in Microsoft parlance often means “added one of our products for a particular department while leaving all the competitors’ products in place;” the question and link answer themselves.

Reeves only got two adjectives wrong in his slam about Microsoft’s “borderline childish,” “a bit disingenuous” tactic. The tactic was entirely childish and completely disingenuous. Reeves cites Burton Group colleague Chris Wolf’s assertion that Hyper-V is no cheaper than ESX, partly because users have to buy the Data Center edition of Windows Server 2008 in order to avoid expensive licensing costs that come with any edition of Windows Server that doesn’t include the right to unlimited production of virtual-machine instances.

I wrote about that earlier, and quoted Microsoft execs saying they’re happy with the licensing, and think it’s fair to customers as well.

As for childishness: of course it was childish to hand out nastygrams to attendees of your competitors’ conference. That’s the kind of coup marketing people live for, though. It was unexpected, aggressive and relevant in the context in which it happened. It was probably very effective.

It was also pretty funny, especially given how stuffily VMware has reacted to nearly everything Microsoft has done on the marketing front.

I wrote a few months ago that I hoped that, as Hyper-V was released and both Microsoft and VMware ramped up their competitive efforts, the two of them would decide they could beat the other by focusing on the needs of customers and delivering licensing, technical and partnership arrangements that would benefit the customer, not just the marketing plan.

Clearly, neitheris going that route. VMware would rather stick to vision and Microsoft would rather stick to realpolitik-based marketing tactics that largely involve kicking VMware CEO Paul Maritz repeatedly in the ankle.

Fine. So be it. Attack ads and negative marketing go on in politics and in business not because they amuse the press or keep the marketers occupied; they go on because they work.

Neither VMware nor Microsoft is going to sway the decision of a customer who’s confident the competitor’s technology fits his or her needs just right. Neither will convince a user who’s decided to add just a little of the competitor’s product into a virtual infrastructure dominated by the other company’s technology, either.

They will influence the vast majority that sit somewhere in the middle, though, looking for the benefits of virtualization, but not completely sure whose marketing and test results and technical white papers to believe.

That’s why Microsoft apparatchiks were handing out flyers and why VMware had them kicked off the premises for it.

It’s too bad, really, that this hype war continues to muddy details important to customers, including licensing, security and management.

Not for Microsoft and VMware, who get to rev up their salesforces and partners with us-versus-them team-building and competitive marketing.

It’s too bad for the customers who want to focus on making IT serve the needs of their own business, not making their IT budgets the prize in a battle for supremacy of the sandbox.