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Still mulling over a Greene-less VMware

It’s been covered to death, but something about Diane Greene’s ousting from VMware’s top spot still doesn’t sit right with me. Not the ousting itself but the chatter about why. There have been conversations about why she was let go, ranging from EMC’s CEO Joe Tucci wanting greater control of VMware to questions about whether she was more of a technology person and less of a business person. In the end, the appointment of Paul Maritz is the really big news, at least in my not-so-humble opinion.

It goes back to “it’s not what but who you know,” and Maritz knows Microsoft. He knows Ballmer, Gates and every other player there. He was one of the most influential and instrumental executives in Microsoft’s history. His reach is wide when it comes to pulling people into the fold — not necessarily by bringing ex-Microsoft folks in as employees, but rather by having high-level working relationships with all the partners that Microsoft has worked with and that EMC and VMware have worked with or would love to work with. He also knows the PC Revolution firsthand, having seen the rise and fall of Novell’s NetWare, Banyan’s VINES and the host of minis and mains that these replaced, only to be replaced by Windows a few years later.

Tucci also knows Microsoft — EMC’s storage products center around the Microsoft world as much as any other operating system. Exchange data stores, SQL databases, file shares — all of these are EMC’s bread and butter in selling storage to the modern data center. Its software, even though some products compete (like Documentum versus Sharepoint PS), is built around a Windows-centric world.

Then there’s the history — Microsoft knows how to win. It buys what it can’t make on its own, then drowns the competition in price wars and advertising battles. Novell, once Microsoft’s bitter rival for network OS sales, now sells Linux licenses to Microsoft. Netscape is gone and the ghost of its second cousin twice removed, the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox, lives on to take what is really an insignificant chunk of Internet Explorer’s market share. Corel/Novell WordPerfect? Only if you’re working in a huge law firm will you see WP on an enterprise level.

Put these together and the fabled VMware versus Microsoft Hypervisor war starts to look less like an armed conflict between bitter rivals and more like a strategic partnership built through a demonstration of independence. Tucci’s no fool — Maritz is there for the day that the Redmond giant comes knocking. He’s there to build thin but sturdy roads between the two companies. He’s there to forge something like the Citrix/Microsoft alliance, where Citrix is an independent company but still acts in many ways like a subsidiary of Microsoft (or at least an extension). In Martiz’s VMworld keynote speech (not the parts about having “sins to atone for” in his early days of programming for the PC Revolution), he barely mentioned Greene and hardly touched on competition with Microsoft. He’s looking forward to the day when he can do what only Citrix has managed to do so far — preserve independence while under Redmond’s all-seeing eye.

In the end, we’ll see VMware’s VDC-OS as the dominant force in the virtualization space with Hyper-V as an acceptable but lesser alternative, much like Citrix’s MetaFrame/XenApp and Microsoft’s Terminal Services. I think this leaves one question: In the long run, what happens to Citrix now that it’s betting so heavily on Xen and taking on Microsoft and VMware directly in the systems virtualization market?

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