Microsoft, VMware and Amazon jockey for pole position in race to manage the cloud

Microsoft, VMware and Amazon jockey for pole position in race to manage the cloud

Summary: Three companies each have their own method of linking an organisation’s datacentre with public clouds, but each one holds risks and benefits for the customer that must be considered.


With Microsoft's new version of Windows Server, the company has committed to a proprietary model of computing where the Redmond software giant makes sure all roads lead to Azure, its own cloud offering.

Microsoft's update is just one of the moves underway as tech companies look to consolidate their positions in the vitally important cloud computing space. Three of the largest players, Microsoft, VMware and Amazon, are trying to strengthen their positions using very different strategies that will force big - and hard-to-reverse - decisions on the organisations that adopt their technologies, and raise issues about vendor lock-in and standards.

Better the devil you know

Microsoft's tactic is simple - most enterprises use its desktop operating system and a large amount use its server management software as well. (In the second quarter of 2012, just under half [47.9 percent] of all the revenue generated from worldwide server shipping came from Windows Server boxes, according to IDC.)

Windows Azure

However, much of these workloads could easily move to the private cloud, where Microsoft is in competition with companies like VMware, or to the public cloud, where fewer companies use Microsoft's Windows Azure compared to Amazon Web Services's suite of technologies.

Microsoft's solution, along with tweaking its Windows Azure public cloud, is to have more of the characteristics of Amazon's, and to update Windows Server to be its 'cloud OS'. It has attempted to do this by increasing the capabilities of its Hyper-V hypervisor to add better replication and software-defined networking features, along with usability tweaks to bring the user interface in line with the clean, modern interface used in Azure. 

Along with the above, it has closely tied Azure and Windows Server together. For instance, it has made it easier to tie data on the two systems together by introducing the Windows Virtual Hard Disk feature, which lets admins bundle data into a VHD file and sling it up into Azure.

With its cloud, Microsoft is betting that enterprise customers want to go from one familiar interface (Windows 7, in a few years Windows 8), into another (Windows Server), then perhaps dabble with some advanced cloud management (System Center 2012), and finally put some data on the road to the cloud which, yes, will look very much like the on-premise environment.

Microsoft's operating system versus VMware's application

In contrast, VMware is aiming to use its dominance of the application layer - via its widely used virtualisation technology - as a lever with which to move enterprises into its own cloud. As of July, VMware had 52.4 percent of virtualised workloads sitting on its hypervisor, while Microsoft had 26.6 percent, according to IDC. While Microsoft has great tools for managing Windows and Windows-virtualised environments, VMware has the edge when it comes to virtualised applications.

In VMware's world, administrators are not managing multiple operating systems but are instead managing applications. The benefits to this approach are the flexibility it brings administrators, with access control policies and data migration made easier by the greater granularity of VMware's technology.

In VMware's world, administrators are not managing multiple operating systems but are instead managing applications

However, it also has drawbacks - namely that if you want to manage all these virtual machines, you need to use VMware's technology, and if you want to move to a cloud, you need to find one that gives you the management tools you are used to with VMware.

Unfortunately, there are not many of these around, and those that do exist are either funded by VMware - Cloud Foundry - or built atop its vCloud Director software. Though VMware likes to point to examples of public and private clouds based around its vCloud Director software (a sportswear company, a telecommunications company, etc), none of them are very big compared to incumbents like Amazon.

VMware's problem is that its technology has been phenomenally successful in the datacentre, but when it comes to the cloud, companies like to have greater control over their technology. As a hypervisor is to data, so a water filter is to water: cloud companies do not necessarily want to build their money-making services around something proprietary operated by a competitor.

For this reason major clouds either use technology that is proprietary (Microsoft, via Hyper-V for Azure), open source (Red Hat via KVM), or shrouded in secrecy (Amazon Web Services, via a tweaked Xen hypervisor).

So if clouds are not willing to directly support VMware, it adds another step for administrators when migrating data into public clouds. To shift information into Amazon, for example, you need to use Amazon's EC2 VM Import Connector to pull in information from ESX VMDK images, among others.

So where does this leave VMware? In much the same position it's been in for the past two years - flailing around with its great success in the datacentre, and struggling to carve out a space for itself in the huge clouds. If you use VMware, then building a VMware-based cloud makes a lot of sense for you, and VMware is aware of this; it is adding more and more features and capabilities to its software in this area. However, get too attached and you could find yourself locked in.

Amazon wants it all

That leaves Amazon, which has come at the issue from the opposite direction to Microsoft and VMware.

While these two companies have sought to shift their customers' data up and into the cloud, Amazon has gone the other way and has focused on making it easier for administrators to pull data down from Amazon and into their on-premise datacentre.

Its rationale is that its cloud can become the main cloud that companies use when going public, and to do this it is building a large set of technologies to make it easier to link private clouds with its own.

Amazon's strategy is one of divide and conquer, where it attacks the on-premise datacentre from many different points. It has its own initiatives, such as the Amazon Storage Gateway, to install itself via an agent into the private datacentre.

It also has partnerships, such as its important tie-up with Eucalyptus, a provider of on-premise cloud software.

Finally, Amazon, due to its size and the growing importance of its APIs, is being supported by the major enterprise companies, with organisations from Oracle to IBM building technologies that help data move from their applications into its cloud.

Amazon's strategy is the simplest one for the company, as it mostly involves standing back and letting the software interconnections accrue, but can be the greatest headache for the storage administrator. This is because Amazon's success has come from organic adoption by an ecosystem of software partners, contributors and hangers-on. This presents the enterprise with a lot of options, but few management capabilities, nor a single user experience.

Taken together, when we look at Microsoft, VMware and Amazon's attitudes to cloud we are presented with three choices. Either an administrator can get totally locked in to Microsoft and enjoy the simplification that comes from that; or they can get a bit more complication by opting for a fragmented-but-well-supported VMware experience; or they can take any concept of usability out back and shoot it in the head, and go for an all-Amazon solution, thereby enjoying the greatest possible amount of flexibility. 

Each choice has its drawbacks and its benefits, but with three horses in the race for end-to-end clouds, it's likely the level of competition will bring lower prices and more features to the market as the companies compete for administrators' workloads.

Topics: Cloud, Amazon, Microsoft, VMware

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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  • From one familiar Interface Windows 7 (in a few years, Windows 8)

    At that point I had to pick myself up from the floor.

    Windows 8, familiar interface....
    • Give it time

      Bozzer, I imagine Windows 8 will be familiar to enterprise IT users after a few refresh cycles. However, I recognise it could take a long time - on a recent trip for the UK's Heathrow airport I saw that our border agency terminals appeared to still be on Windows XP!
      Jack Clark
      • yes -

        Apparently half the world is on XP - especially in the datacentre -
  • workloads could easily move to the private cloud, where Microsoft is in com

    and each of these companys have had you info stole and have not told any about they have been hacked again and again the cloud is in the danger zone and they are not doing any thing about it and do not care
  • Is this an anti-Microsoft editorial or real journalism?

    Many of your claims are simply without any merit. For example you said:

    "Along with the above, [Microsoft] has closely tied Azure and Windows Server together. For instance, it has made it easier to tie data on the two systems together by introducing the Windows Virtual Hard Disk feature, which lets admins bundle data into a VHD file and sling it up into Azure."

    How does allowing for the creation of a VHD tie Windows Server to Azure? Amazon EC2 allows you to upload VHDs.

    Also read mary Jo's article that you linked - Azure IaaS will run Windows or Linux VMs. How is that closely tying Windows Server to Azure?

    Your theories are weak and your bias is obvious.
  • Don't Forget Savvis for cloud solutions

    Companies regularly leave Amazon to move to Savvis.
  • VMware Lock-In?

    Jack, the info you included about VMware is a bit outdated in light of VMware's activities this year and it's Solutions Roadmap.

    With the recent acquisitions of DynamicOps and Nicira, VMware's position in managing multi-hypervisor and multi-cloud provider environments is significantly strengthened compared to Amazon and MS.

    In addition, VMware is demonstrating interest in managing Open Source cloud environments by applying to join the OpenStack Foundation.

    Please consider attending VMworld Europe 2012 in Barcelona to get a better view of VMware's position in the Cloud Market.

    Disclaimer: I do work for a VMware Partner.
    • No evidence yet

      VMTrooper - I attended VMworld in SF. Unfortunately I was a little ill and unable to file much copy. However, based on the keynotes and private meetings with executives it seems VMware has a whole lot of grand open ambitions, but no real evidence of this yet. In a year, if the Nicira integration and OpenStack/Gold stuff goes as it should, I may be singing a different tune.
      Jack Clark
      • No real evidence?

        DynamicOps has a shipping product that allows you to initiate/manage/move workloads between vSphere, Hyper-V, and Amazon easily. In addition, ServiceMesh and ManageIQ, among other ISVs, provide this functionality as well.

        So, the concern about VMware Cloud Technology customers being locked-in to VMware's stack is signicantly reduced, if not eliminated.

        Nicira's integration is not complete, sure, but its technologies are already capable of managing networking services between multiple vendor stacks as evidenced by the demonstrations at VMworld.

        For those customers who are content with the VMware stack, major networking and security vendors are working in concert with VMware to offer virtualized L4-L7 services for more control over Cloud Services delivery to tenants.

        VMware is neither "flailing" nor "struggling".
  • By the way...

    What did you mean by...

    "In VMware's world, administrators are not managing multiple operating systems but are instead managing applications"?

    The wording is a bit strange...
    • multiple apps on multiple os's

      meant to express that vmware has a wider mngmt remit than Microsoft, will try and update for clarity - thanks for pointing it out
      Jack Clark
  • all 3

    Honestly I don't see any of these three being dominant long term players in the cloud. Perhaps amazon will have some success due to the sheer number of people that purchase their products. However, in terms of private individual based cloud sharing, private companies such as 4sync will succeed because they offer great security and the most gb for free.
    • Are you just talking about personal storage?

      Most companies aren't interested in individual cloud based sharing. They are interested in IAAS and PAAS. 4sync is just personal storage.
  • Microsoft, VMware and Amazon jockey for pole position in race to manage the

    if any one put my info in the cloud i am sueing them i am dealing with id theft because a doctor put my med rececords in the dam cloud it is unsafe big time and they are not telling any one how unsafe it is
  • Pssst, I let you all in to a secret!

    The cloud is not new, it's just been renamed for marketing purpose.
    Our phone shop in Australia with both their pos system and the data center with Telsta have been storing and using their date online for over 6 years already.
  • Let's wait a few decades

    All this cloud stuff, insecure, hacked all the time, is is ever going to be possible to trust it? If your data circuit is down, floods, terrorists, whatever, you're out of luck if your only source has just floated away on that cloud, and if you need to maintain am operational data center for backup then whats the point of the cloud?

    As a government IT director I'm lucky, we're prohibited BY LAW from using any cloud services that may retain or potentially expose ANY sensitive data to exposure, which means pretty much everything.

    If I wanted to use a cloud service the hassle, scrutiny and objections would go on for months and even then it would be turned down; worse, I'd be watched by the powers that be with great suspicion, the assumption I'd try to do it anyway would contine in their minds. And if I did it's a dischargable offense that could land me in jail for up to ten years.

    For me, the cloud is just a mist in the sky and given the way government sticks in the mud, it always will be.

  • Government may be right.

    The Government is probably right for once! Any Data stored on an American owned server must be handed over to US agencies ( without reference to the data owner ) if so requested. The geographical position of the server is irrelevant as under the Patriot Act US headquartered companies would have no option but to comply with such a request. BAE systems pulled out of cloud deal with MS 365 for this very reason.
    Very Very Very Grumpy