It seems about time - after a week that included the release of yet another beta of Microsoft's Hyper-V, Citrix's release of sometimes-free desktop virtualisation, VMware announcements about desktop virtualisation and announcements from too many other companies to mention - to pick the winner of the fight for dominance in the virtualisation market.
Despite the claims and counterclaims of superiority by Microsoft and VMware - and now Citrix and VMware - it's becoming increasingly clear who's going to be the winner in the rapidly growing market for server virtualisation: HP.
Sure, Microsoft and VMware and Citrix are the ones on the front lines lobbing FUD, lining up industry partners, spending marketing money to convince customers their way is the only way, even though the core of "their way" is a technology so commoditised that even non-virtualisation companies can customise a version for their own customers and give it away free (hi, Oracle).
That's a great business proposition, eh? Charging for stuff people can get for free? Of course, Red Hat's doing it with Linux and half the computer industry is doing it with the Xen hypervisor. None of those companies is going to get rich selling just virtualisation, however.
VMware is certainly making it work right now, of course, if you consider $US400 million a quarter and growth rate of 69 per cent "good". And, realising its core technology will soon be available at every convenience store and bait shop, VMware is improving its array of high-end datacentre management products for disaster recovery of VMs, automated staging and launch of applications and lifecycle management - all of which will help it expand and protect its market.
And parent company, EMC, will undoubtedly help, having demonstrated its own ability to squeeze the occasional dollar out of a market (storage) that's dirt-cheap commodity at the low end, rocket-science at the high end and black art throughout (when connected with backup at least).
Microsoft, of course has frustrated all attempts to bet against it or write it off, even when its technology is late to a market other companies created and built. Right now Microsoft's just hoping to hang on to its operating-system hegemony in the face of competition from not only traditional vendors, but also the entire Internet.
I have no doubt that both companies will do well enough financially as virtualisation becomes as common and commonly used a function as dual-core chips and networked storage. Analyst predictions of the incredible growth of the virtualisation market will undoubtedly peter out, in fact, as virtualisation as a function stops being a discrete function and the "virtualisation market" focuses on advanced management products rather than hypervisors.
All that will pose major challenges for both VMware and Microsoft and lesser dilemmas for Citrix and more peripheral players. It will pose few challenges for HP, however or, to a lesser extent, IBM, Dell, Sun and other companies able to take advantage of a shooting war by selling weapons to both sides. HP, owning as it does a set of hardware and software products that touch nearly every part of the virtualisation market including desktop, server and VM management.
It also has the consulting, integration and support services required to spec, fund and finalise a major virtualisation project.
HP even sells a line of thin clients that cost about the same as a PC and look for all the world like them except for the lack of a hard drive (Here's an idea: Take a product, remove one of the costliest components and sell it under a new name for the same price as the old one! Excellent business proposition).