VDI Market Heats Up – and So Do Vendor Rivalries

I’m pleased to welcome Laura DiDio of ITIC as a contributor. ITIC is a rich source of data and insightful commentary. This piece originally appeared in the PUND-IT newsletter.

There’s no hotter market in high tech this year than Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and you don’t need sales and unit shipment statistics to prove it.  No, the best measurement of VDI’s hotness is the sudden flurry of vendor announcements accompanied by a concomitant rise in vitriol. The main players in the VDI market are actually two sets of pairs. It’s Citrix and Microsoft lining up against VMware and EMC for Round 2 in the ongoing virtualization wars. On March 18, Citrix and Microsoft came out swinging, landing the first potent, preemptive punches right where they hope will hurt VMware the most: in its pocketbook.

Citrix and Microsoft unveiled a series of VDI initiatives that include aggressive promotional pricing deals and more simplified licensing models. To demonstrate just how solid and committed they are to their alliance and taking on and taking down VMware and EMC, the two firms even went so far as to combine their respective VDI graphics technologies.

At stake is the leadership position in the nascent, but rapidly expanding global VDI market. The results of the ITIC 2010 Global Virtualization Deployment and Trends Survey, which polled 800+ businesses worldwide in December/January, indicate that

31% of respondents plan to implement VDI in 2010; that’s more than double the 13% that said they would undertake a VDI deployment in 2009.

Application virtualization is also on the rise. The same ITIC survey found that 37% of participants plan application virtualization upgrades this year, up from 15% who responded affirmatively to the same question in 2009.

The current installed base of VDI deployments is still relatively small; hence the statistics that show the number of deployment plans doubling year over year must be considered in that context. Nonetheless, double digit deployment growth figures are evidence of strengthening demand and a market that is robustly transitioning from niche to mainstream. The spate of announcements from Microsoft and Citrix were clearly intended to capitalize on the growth spurt in VDI.  At the same time, the companies threw down the gauntlet with initiatives aimed at solidifying and expanding their base of current VDI customers while serving the dual purpose of luring VMware customers away from that company’s VDI platform. They include:

  • “VDI Kick Start” This wide ranging sales promotion, which runs from March 18 through December 31, 2010, seeks to jump start VDI deployments by lowering the entry level pricing for customers purchasing Microsoft and Citrix technologies. As part of this deal, existing Microsoft client access licensing (CAL) customers will pay $28 per desktop for up to 250 users to purchase the Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Suite, Standard edition, and Citrix’s XenDesktop VDI Edition for one year. That’s roughly a 50% discount off the list prices that corporations have paid up until now for their annual CALs.  This is crucial for cost conscious businesses. Client access licenses typically represent the lion’s share of their licensing deals since desktops outnumber servers in mid-sized and large enterprises. In addition to merging Microsoft’s 3-D graphics technology for virtual desktops, called RemoteFX, with Citrix’s high-definition HDX technology.
  • The Microsoft Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) License Plan Organizations that use Thin Client devices which are not included or covered under Microsoft’s SA maintenance plan, can now purchase the VDA licenses at a retail price of $100 per device per annum. This targets end users who travel or telecommute and need to use personal devices or public networks to access their corporate data. Microsoft also made another move towards simplifying its virtualization licensing plan. Starting July 1, Microsoft SA customers will no longer be required to purchase a separate license to access Windows via a VDI.
  • The “Rescue for VMware VDI” The name says it all; this promotion is a direct attack on VMware. Like the VDI Kick Start program it runs from March 18 through December 31, 2010. Under the terms of this deal, any Microsoft Software Assurance licensing/maintenance customer can replace their existing VMware View licenses for free. VMware View users who opt out of that platform in favor of the Citrix and Microsoft offerings will receive up to 500 XenDesktop VDI Edition device licenses and up to 500 Microsoft VDI Standard Suite device licenses free for an entire year once they trade in their VMware View licenses.

Dai Vu, Microsoft’s director of virtualization marketing said the announcements were all about delivering more value to desktop customers and simplifying and extending organizations’ licensing rights.

The Citrix/Microsoft announcements also cement the close working partnership and the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” relationship the firms have enjoyed for many years. By bundling their respective VDI offerings together, the two companies should also ensure integration and interoperability which are crucial components for each and every layer in a virtualized data center environment.

VMware and EMC: Not Standing Still

VMware and EMC executives have yet to publicly respond to the Microsoft/Citrix initiatives.  However, it’s almost certain that VMware will have to offer its current and prospective VDI accounts incentives to counter the Microsoft/Citrix alliance. Cash strapped corporations and IT departments are all on the lookout for top notch products at bargain basement prices.  And it doesn’t get much better for customers than the free Rescue for VMware VDI program.

VMware built up a commanding lead in the server virtualization arena over the last five years by virtue of being first to market and delivering leading edge features and performance in its signature ESX Server product. VMware’s competitors have spent the last several years playing catch up in server virtualization. This allowed VMware to charge a premium price for its premier offerings. Depending on the size and scope of the individual organization’s server virtualization deployment, customers paid on average 35% to as much as 75% higher for VMware server-based offerings. There were surprisingly few complaints.

The emerging VDI and application virtualization markets are a different story.  Only about 5% to 8% of organizations worldwide have fully virtualized their desktop infrastructure. So it’s too soon to declare a clear market winner.  It’s safe to say that Citrix, Microsoft and VMware are all market leaders in this segment. This time around though, Microsoft and Citrix are determined not to let VMware and EMC run away with the race by building an insurmountable lead.

Meanwhile, VMware and EMC have not been idle. Former Microsoft executive Paul Maritz succeeded VMware founder Diane Greene following her 2008 departure as the company’s president and chief executive officer. Since then he has made tangible moves to bolster VMware’s position in the VDI and application virtualization arenas. Maritz and EMC CEO Joe Tucci make a formidable combination, as do EMC and VMware. EMC purchased VMware in 2004 for $635 million and it owns an 86% majority stake in the server virtualization market leader.  In the past several years, VMware’s fortunes and revenues have risen faster than EMC’s. VMware’s year-over-year (YoY) quarterly revenue growth stands at 18.20% compared with EMC’s modest 2.10% Y0Y quarterly sales. Another key indicator is net earnings and in this regard, VMware experienced negative YoY quarterly earnings growth of  -49.4 0% . By contrast its parent EMC recorded a very robust and positive 44.70% jump in YoY quarterly earnings.  It is also worth noting that VMware’s annual revenues of $2.02 billion represent only 15% of EMC’s annual sales of $14.03 billion.  And to date, EMC’s solutions have only been related tangentially to VMware’s VDI products. For practical purposes, this may continue to be the case. From a PR standpoint though, EMC and VMware are presenting themselves as a sort of virtualization “dynamic duo.”

At an EMC Analyst event at the company’s Hopkinton, MA headquarters on March 11, Pat Gelsinger, president of EMC’s Information Infrastructure Products group described the combination of EMC and VMware – specifically with respect to storage virtualization, virtualization management and private cloud infrastructures — as the “Wild West” of the virtualization market, saying “we want to be disruptive and change the way people fundamentally think of IT.”   Though Gelsinger mainly confined his comments to EMC’s core bailiwick in the storage arena, it is clear that EMC and VMware are pro-actively presenting a united front.

In February, the two firms moved to reposition some of their assets; EMC and VMware inked a deal for VMware to acquire certain software products and expertise from EMC’s Ionix IT management business in an all cash deal for $200 million. EMC does retain the Ionix brand and gets full reseller rights to continue to offer customers the products acquired by VMware.   Maritz said VMware’s acquisition of the Ionix products and expertise promises to further establish VMware vCenter as the next generation management platform for private cloud infrastructures.

The agreement also calls for VMware to take control of all the technology and intellectual property of FastScale, which EMC acquired in 2009. The FastScale Composer Suite incorporates integrated software management tools to enable organizations to maintain peak performance in a virtualized environment.

Also, recently, VMware introduced ThinApp 4.5, a new version of its application virtualization package designed to simplify enterprises’ migration to Windows 7.

End Users are the Biggest Winners

What makes the latest competition  for VDI market dominance noteworthy is the extreme actions the combatants are willing to take in order to retain and gain customers’ at their rivals expense. With last week’s joint announcements and deepening partnership, Citrix and Microsoft have signaled their intention to lead but it’s still too early to call the race.

The joint Microsoft/Citrix initiatives to cut costs and simplify virtualization licensing plans remove two of the more significant barriers to VDI adoption. The largest looming challenge remains the willingness of corporations to embrace a new technology model as their organizations and IT departments continue to grapple with the lingering effects of the ongoing economic crunch. In this regard, all of the virtualization vendors in concert with OEM hardware vendors like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Stratus Technologies and Wyse who partner with them must convince customers that transitioning to VDI will provide tangible Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return on Investment (ROI) benefits.  This entails providing organizations with the necessary guidance – including tools, training, documentation, Best Practices and solid technical service and support – to ensure that a conversion to VDI can be accomplished with minimal disruption. Admittedly, this is a tall order.

Hardware vendors like Dell, HP, IBM et al all have a stake in the future success of the VDI market. Organizations that migrate to VDI will seek to upgrade to newer, more powerful desktops (PCs, notebooks) and servers, which in turn, potentially boosts the hardware vendors’ individual and collective bottom lines. Additionally, both HP and IBM boast huge service and support organizations, which also stand to benefit from an uptick in VDI adoptions. So the hardware vendors have every reason to partner with Citrix, Microsoft and VMware to promote and expand the VDI market segment.  Regardless of which vendor(s) prevails, the biggest winners will be the customers. When several big name vendors vie for the hearts, minds and wallets of customers, it usually means that feature-rich, reliable products get to market sooner at more competitive prices.  Let’s hope the VDI race is a long one.

Laura DiDio is Principal at ITIC, a research and consulting firm in suburban Boston.

Published by Merv Adrian

Independent information technology market analyst and consultant, 40 years of industry experience, covering software in and around the data management space.

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