From a distance, the market for virtualisation software appears to be a two-horse race. In one lane, with a head start in technology and the market-share lead is VMware; in the other, with deep pockets, determination and dominion over server operating systems, is Microsoft.
But as those two companies jostle to become the principal benefactor of a technology whose disruptive potential
is only beginning to be realised, opportunities may arise for smaller suppliers to plug the gaps between their respective software environments.
One company that certainly hopes this is the case is Veeam. As the US-based software vendor’s name suggests, it is best known for its role in the VMware ecosystem. Its flagship product, contributing between 70% and 80% of its (undisclosed) revenues, is a backup and replication tool for VMware environments.
According to CEO Ratmir Timashev, the majority of sales for this product are to small and medium-sized businesses. It does have a number of enterprise customers, he says, but the penetration of Veeam’s software within those customers’ environments is limited by a cultural divide within the typical enterprise IT department – the divide between virtualisation experts who, Ratmir says, understand the peculiar requirements of backing up virtualised systems, and the storage experts who don’t but nevertheless control the budget for backup systems.
“If the virtualisation guys go to the storage guys and say we need this product to back up VMware, the storage guys will say ‘why do we need to change anything?’” he argues. What they fail to understand, Timashev claims, is that by using tools designed for physical environments to back up virtual systems, IT departments are depriving themselves of the business continuity benefits of virtualisation, such as continuous data protection (i.e. constant replication of data) without the need for redundant infrastructure.
But another product line may provide Veeam with a route into the enterprise, an approach that plays off Microsoft’s System Center systems management suite. Not only is this a lucrative business in its own right, Timashev explains, but it is an important component of the software giant’s bid to win converts to its virtual platform. The argument goes that by standardising on System Center – components of which can be used to manage both physical and virtual systems – end-user organisations can reduce their overall systems management costs. Whether this is true depends on the size of the organisation, Timashev says.
Of course, to be a complete virtualisation management tool, System Center must integrate with VMware environments. And while Microsoft’s Virtual Machine Manager component does allow users to monitor VMware virtual machines, not all the automation and load balancing functionality of System Center integrates.
In 2008, Veeam acquired a company called nWorks that had built software that ties VMware’s management console vCenter to Microsoft’s Systems Center. This product, Timashev claims, inspired Microsoft’s recent decision to make Veeam an official partner for integrating Systems Center with VMware.
But if this is such an important integration, why then did Microsoft not simply build it for itself? “For Microsoft, it’s tactical, not strategic,” says Timashev. “They want to make sure that customers can adopt Systems Center, but they don’t want to put a load of emphasis on VMware. So they said if there’s a solution on the market place, lets partner with them.”
Here is a classic example of competition in a software market creating opportunity for third parties by necessitating integration. This is good news for those third parties, of course, but customers might question why it falls to them to fund interoperability.