Will VMware go the way of Novell… by buying Novell?

For quite some time, rumors have run rampant that VMware is in talks to buy a piece of Novell. Specifically, the Wall Street Journal reports that VMware intends to purchase Novell’s SUSE Linux and related assets. If the rumors are true, there’s a lot of chatter out there indicating that VMware wants SUSE Linux for any number of reasons, including:

  • Going head to head with Red Hat. Red Hat takes a KVM-based approach to virtualization. KVM is an open source virtualization architecture that could prove to be a threat to VMware in the future, particularly as the management tools for this solution continue to evolve.
  • Looking down the line. Other virtualization companies bring a full OS to the equation. Microsoft’s Hyper-V brings Windows, Red Hat brings Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Oracle brings Solaris. These companies can sell end-to-end solutions that are elusive to VMware at present. However, VMware currently enjoys “best of breed” status with its hypervisor – with good reason – so it’s safe in the short term. As time goes on and other virtualization platforms mature and begin to pose a more significant threat, this could pose a major risk to VMware.
  • It’s about Microsoft. VMware CEO Paul Maritz – a Microsoft vet – understands how Microsoft works. The company can, quite effectively, buy market share. On the surface of things, Hyper-V is (very arguably) a much less expensive solution than ESX but Hyper-V remains a generation behind VMware when it comes to enterprise feature sets. VMware has to know that, even as Microsoft slowly adds features to Hyper-V, that the companies will eventually be on par with one another. In a true head-to-head with a technical underpinnings being equal, Microsoft would very likely walk away the victor. Therefore, finding new ways to tie customers to VMware is job #1 for VMware. Imagine a VMware platform of the future that provides customers with a SUSE Linux Desktop running Zimbra for email and collaboration. Of course, in this scenario, there’s the pesky consideration of productivity apps, but I guess there’s always Open Office. All that said, the promise of virtualization extends even to applications. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that VMware could provide this full desktop and provision line of business virtual applications to users that are running on Windows servers in the private cloud (i.e. data center).

In any case, I’m having difficulty seeing a short-term benefit for VMware with an acquisition of Novell’s SUSE Linux business. Between this and their other acquisitions, such as Zimbra, VMware could be working to cobble together a start to finish platform, but it’s going to take quite some time and effort for the company and I expect that the short-term sales job (“Please… buy these completely unrelated and non-integrated products from us!”) will be a tough one for VMware partners. In the long term, though, it will be interesting to see if the company can execute on a full spectrum product strategy that goes well beyond simple virtualization or if their efforts will make them a 2020 acquisition target.

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