I used to think of VMware (a part of EMC) as a savvy technology company that figured out something others couldn't. Now the company has also become business and politically savvy in trying to establish VMware as a de facto standard (the default) for virtualization services by allowing partners to access its ESX Server source code and interfaces. The company's press release claims that it's combining the best of commercial and open source models:
The Community Source program provides industry partners with an opportunity to access VMware ESX Server source code under a royalty-free license. Partners are empowered to contribute shared code or create binary modules intended to spur and extend interoperable and integrated virtualization solutions -- thereby combining the best of both the traditional commercial and open source development models. Community members can participate and influence the governance of VMware ESX Server through an architecture board. This approach will help drive open collaboration while still preserving the ability of partners to build differentiated, intellectual property-protected solutions.
However, as VMware co-founder and President Diane Greene told me, the royalty-free license does not mean giving up the store and allowing partners to redistribute VMware's software, which makes this effort more like Microsoft's shared source program than Sun's CDDL license, for example. "We are letting people add in their proprietary code to our server as a black box, which will make it easier to deliver new functionality to customers," Greene said. She didn't rule out over time offering up some code under an open source license.
She compared VMware's core x86 virtualization technology to SQL in explaining the motives for the VMware Community Source. "Opening the APIs is good for everybody. If you look back at the SQL standard, it allowed databases to move forward rapidly, with confidence that it would be compatible against whatever else came along," Greene said. "The world today really values open standards, so it made sense for us to participate in this. Customers want everyone to collaborate and work seamlessly together--if the vendors can do that, customers will be happier and everybody does well."
Fundamentally, VMware is leveraging its momentum (10,000 server customers at the end of 2004, which is expected to double this year) to build a barrier to the de facto standard king Microsoft, which has a somewhat competitive virtualization product, and to make life easier for the entire virtualization ecosystem. "We want to take [ESX Server] and make it an industry standard. Today [VMware virtualization technology] is a kind of de facto standard, but by working with partners we can make it an industry standard," Greene said. "If there is a blessing body we should work with to make it more of a standard, we will do that."
It looks like VMware doesn't need the IEEE or other body to bless its software right now. VMware's partners include the likes of AMD, BEA, BMC, CA, Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Novell and Red Hat. Microsoft is noticeably absent, but Greene told that she would be calling on the company soon to join the VMware community. My guess is that Microsoft will find a way to avoid endorsing VMware...
Update: Stephen Shankland's news story has the specific details and Xen angle.