by Kevin Fogarty

The Trouble With VMware’s Windows Certification Play

Aug 28, 20085 mins

The number of analysts and customers excited about VMware's agreement to joint a Windows certification program it should have joined long ago shows how widely VMware's expectations differ from the needs of its customers.

I usually try not to write too much about what other people are blogging about—especially when some of the “people” are actually vendors. Bloggers commenting on each other can create a good discussion, but writing about what other people are writing about what other people are writing about gets you through the looking glass into WhoCaresLand pretty quickly, and I have a pretty short attention span anyway and—hey, look, a bird!

Anyway, last week I dinged VMware for waiting so long to announce it had joined Microsoft’s Windows Server Virtualization Validation Program (SVVP)—which is designed to help virtualization vendors tweak their products to support Windows Server as the OS in a virtual machine.

Then I quit paying close attention to the virtualization news cycle and went off to cover a military IT conference for a couple of days. (Military IT people are exactly like civilian IT people, by the way, except they dress neater, call everyone ‘sir,’ and are way less excited than they should be that some of the systems they work on eventually blow up. You probably already know this, of course, because a huge number of civilian IT people used to be military IT people. I’m just letting you know not much has changed. Except that joke about the two Navy lieutenants. That one’s a lot funnier now.)

I only mentioned it in the context of a piece on a Microsoft licensing change that’s likely to have a much bigger impact (though not as big an impact as it should have) on customers. I didn’t realize how big a stir it would create, but there has been a ton of discussion about how great it is that VMware’s finally on board and how smart it is to do it, and and how it should have signed on a long time ago.

This guy, by the way, gets the Best Timing award for a blog specifically dated the same day as the announcement specifically criticizing VMware for not joining SVVP and explaining why it should. This isn’t a criticism of his timing; it’s an indication that VMware waited way too long to admit the obvious—that it was going to have to join SVVP and get certified no matter how many showers it had to take afterward.

Since Windows Server runs just fine on top of ESX I kind of doubt VMware engineers ignored the whole issue until the paper was signed. Given the number of Windows servers that have been or can be virtualized, I doubt anyone at VMware ever seriously considered not supporting it as seamlessly as possible in all VMware’s products. They might not want to support virtual machines running on Hyper-V, but there’s no way to avoid Windows Server.

Getting certified can only benefit customers by improving technical compatibility and improving their confidence in both companies. VMware is not certified yet, by the way, though VMware corporate blogs say the company wants that to happen before the start of VMworld on Sept. 15.

Refusing to sign was just a bit of marketing, a little spin to make it look as if VMware hadn’t caved in and agreed to cooperate with the upstart.

It left customers with a big question in their minds about how well VMware would work with either Microsoft or Microsoft products. It did nothing to limit either the progress, support or confidence in Microsoft’s entry into the virtualization market place. And it did nothing to let customers know that, no matter what the competitive conflicts and marketing pressures, VMware would serve their needs no matter what.

If VMware wants to reassure its customers about their Microsoft products, it should go further than just signing on to the same certification agreement that’s open to any ISV or OEM in the industry.

It should specifically promise that it will support whatever operating systems, applications or management software its customers choose to use; it should expand its hardware and software certification programs to reduce the amount of time customers have to spend cross-referencing processors and components as they choose hardware suppliers.

It should commit to fully integrating and manage not only Hyper-V, but all Microsoft’s other upcoming virtualization products, and do it at a minimal cost and with minimal trouble to customers.

It should publicly launch a discussion pressing Microsoft to work with it to resolve licensing issues for the OS, apps and hypervisors in virtual infrastructures so customers can actually use their virtualization setups the way they’re supposed to be used, rather than counting coupons and taking half-steps that cover some parts of a mobile virtual machine but not others.

And it should quit pretending that it is somehow doing the industry and its customers a favor by agreeing to certify that its technology will work with the products that all its customers are using anyway.

That kind of not-built-here attitude went out with mainframes, and didn’t go over well with customers even then.

I didn’t write much about VMware and SVVP because I figured the agreement was pretty inconsequential, and it should have been.

If VMware was being open with customers about its intentions toward Microsoft, and was communicating with them about what it would and would not support in the future, VMware signing on to a certification program it should have been participating in all along would have been a complete non-issue.

Microsoft would have issued a press release and everyone would have ignored it. Instead it became a major topic of discussion, indicating to me, at least, that VMware’s customers have a lot less confidence in it than they should have and that it has a lot of work to do to build that confidence back up.