VMware: Embrace and extend hybrid cloud style

VMware's VMworld announcements are a case study in the "embrace and extend" approach used so well by Microsoft. The big difference is VMware doesn't want to and couldn't add the "extinguish" to the cloud (hybrid or otherwise).
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

VMware made a bevy of moves this week to solidify its hybrid cloud strategy, expand its total addressable market and embrace rival platforms that could threaten its data center stronghold. But to truly understand VMware's moves you need to take a refresher on Microsoft's embrace and extend strategy from the 1990s.

But first here's a quick recap of VMware's moves:

  • VMware integrated OpenStack and launched application programming interfaces that will connect the company's cloud and data center platform with the open source cloud operating system that is a competitor. VMware also launched its own OpenStack distribution. OpenStack and the bevy of IT giants that support it are tied together in part to prevent VMware from monopolizing cloud infrastructure.
  • VMware bought into Docker containers with Google, Docker and Pivotal. By bringing Docker into VMware, the virtualization leader can offer its customers access to containers that could compete with virtual machines.
  • Embedded appliances with hardware vendors such as Dell, EMC and Fujitsu. Meanwhile, a bevy of networking players have connected to VMware's NSX platform too. VMware will now have a hardware route into the data center.
  • The launch of vCloud suite improvements as well a new vRealize suite for software defined data centers.

From afar, it's easy to conclude that VMware is looking to thwart threats by bringing them into the fold and adding extra value. Some folks have complained that VMworld lacks innovation and vision. To those critics, VMware looks very reactive. Appliances? VMware says me too. OpenStack? VMware says we love it too. Docker and containers? VMware says oh yeah we can do that. These folks would argue that VMware's vision of the hybrid cloud is more about keeping customer base and licensing and maintenance revenue stream even has players like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure gain momentum.

VMworld coverage: VMware taps into mobility market with vCloud Air | VMware EVO speeds up software-defined datacentre delivery | VMware buys into Docker containers | VMware CEO: 'Now is the time for IT to step forward in a powerful way' | VMware takes cue from Amazon with new OpenStack framework

I'd argue that the VMware moves are a bit more nuanced. The hybrid cloud is a reality and VMware is a major enabler. VMware has to play well with the ecosystem and partner accordingly. To date, there's little evidence that VMware is about to add the "extinguish" that got Microsoft's "embrace and extend" strategy from the 1990s in hot water with the Feds. Even if VMware wanted to exterminate the cloud for its own interests it couldn't.

VMware's embrace and extend is a kinder gentler version of Microsoft's but the two approaches do rhyme.

Here's a look at a graphic from Microsoft exec J. Allard's internal memo from 1994 arguing that Windows should embrace and extend the Internet. One of the recipients was Paul Maritz, who used to be CEO of VMware.

allard graphic

And here's a look at a slide from VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger's presentation at the company's analyst day on Monday.


The common threads are clear. Microsoft saw Windows as the center of the Internet with extenders to other technologies. By embracing containers and OpenStack, VMware sees its platform the center of the enterprise cloud.

Bottom line: It's unclear to me whether VMware is the last great traditional enterprise software company or an early cloud computing pioneer. VMware could wind up being a hybrid that straddles both categories.

In the end, VMware can embrace the cloud competition and extend it with its own tools and still make gobs of money. Perhaps the real innovation with VMware is about the business model and ability to chase the total addressable cloud market before rivals get too far ahead.

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