At VMworld 2013 in San Francisco, there was a lot of buzz around Hyper-V, oddly enough. A few vendors mentioned multi-hypervisor heterogeneous cloud technologies in hushed tones, more than a few attendees bemoaned the very recent death of Microsoft TechNet Subscription offerings, and guess who showed up with a frozen custard truck?
Yep, Microsoft’s server team showed up, rented out and re-skinned a Frozen Kuhsterd food truck, and handed out free frozen custard for a chance to promote and discuss their own virtualization platform and new publicity initiative, branded Virtualization2.
The frozen custard was pretty tasty. Well worth the 3 block walk from Moscone. It was a pretty effective way to get attention and mindshare as well–several people I spoke with were impressed with the marketing novelty and the reminder that VMware isn’t the only player in the game, even if one friend considered it an utter failure due to the insufficient description of frozen custard.
Almost two years ago when I did my Virtualization Field Day experience, the question I asked (and vendors were usually prepared to answer) was “when will you support Xen in addition to VMware?” This year, it’s more “when will you support Hyper-V?” So a lot of people are taking Microsoft seriously in the visualization market these days.
Insert Foot, Pull Trigger
One nominal advantage Microsoft has had over VMware in the last few years is an affordable way for IT professionals to evaluate their offerings for more than two months at a time. But first, some history.
Once upon a time, VMware had a program called the VMTN (VMware Technology Network) Subscription. For about $300 a year, you got extended use licenses for VMware’s products, for non-production use. No 60-day time bomb, no 6-reinstalls-a-year for the home lab, and you can focus on learning and maybe even mastering the technology.
Well, in February 2007, VMware did away with the VMTN subscription. You can still see the promo/signup page on their site but you’re not going to be able to sign up for it today.
At that point, Microsoft had the advantage in that their TechNet Subscription program gave you a similar option. For about $300/year you could get non-production licenses for most Microsoft products, including servers and virtualization. I would believe that a few people found it easier to test and develop their skills in that environment, rather than in the “oops, it’s an odd month, better reinstall the lab from scratch” environment that VMware provided.
Well, as of today, September 1, the TechNet Subscription is no more. If you signed up or renewed by the end of August 31, you get one more year and then your licenses are no longer valid. If you wanted some fresh lab license love today, you’re out of luck.
Technically, you can get an MSDN subscription for several thousand dollars and have the same level of access. The Operating Systems level is “only” $699 (want other servers? You’re looking at $1199 to $6119). Or if you qualify for the Microsoft Partner Program as an IT solutions provider, you can use the Action Pack Solution Provider to get access to whatever is current in the Microsoft portfolio for about $300/year. But the latter is tricky in that you need to be a solutions provider and jump through hoops, and the former is tricky because you might not have several thousand dollars to send to Redmond every year.
Help me, Obi-Wan vExpert, you’re my only hope
In 2011, Mike Laverick started a campaign to reinstate the VMTN subscription program. The thread on the VMware communities forum is occasionally active even two years later. But after two years of increasing community demand and non-existent corporate support, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel last week at VMworld in San Francisco.
As Chris Wahl reported, Raghu Raghuram, VMware Executive Vice President of Cloud Infrastructure and Management, said the chances of a subscription program returning are “very high.” Chris notes that there’s not much detail beyond this glimmer of hope, but it’s more hope than we’ve had for most of the last 6 years. For those of you who remember Doctor Who between 1989 and 2005, yeah, it’s like that.
Today, your choices for a sustainable lab environment include being chosen as a vExpert (or possibly a Microsoft MVP–not as familiar with that program’s somatic components) with the ensuing NFR/eval licenses; working for a company that can get you non-expiring licenses; unseemly licensing workaround methods we won’t go into; or simply not having a sustainable lab environment.
I added my voice to the VMTN campaign quite a while ago. When nothing came of that campaign, and I found myself more engaged in the community, I applied for (and was chosen for) vExpert status. So the lab fulcrum in my environment definitely tilts toward the folks in Palo Alto, not Redmond.
But I did mention to the nice young lady handing out tee shirts at the Microsoft Custard Truck that I’d be far more likely to develop my Hyper-V skills if something like TechNet subscription came back. She noted this on her feedback notebook, so I feel I’ve done my part. And I did get a very comfy tee shirt from her.
When I got back to my hotel, I found that the XL shirt I’d asked for was actually a L. Had I not been eating lightly and walking way too much, it wouldn’t have come anywhere near fitting, and it probably won’t any more, now that I’m back to normal patterns. But maybe that size swap was an analogy for a bigger story.
One size doesn’t fit all.
If Microsoft and VMware can’t make something happen to help the new crop of IT professionals cut their teeth on those products, they’ll find the new technologists working with other products. KVM is picking up speed in the market, Xenserver is moving faster toward the free market (and now offers a $199 annual license if you want those benefits beyond the free version), and people who aren’t already entrenched in the big two aren’t likely to want to rebuild their lab every two months.
And when you layer Openstack or Cloudstack (yeah it’s still around) on top of the hypervisor, it becomes a commodity. So the benefits of vCenter Server or the like become minimal to non-existent.
So where do we go from here?
Best case, VMware comes up with a subscription program, and Microsoft comes up with something as well. Then you can compare them on even footing and go with what works for you and your career.
Worst case, try to live with the vCenter and related products’ 60 day trial. If your company is a VMware (or Microsoft) virtualization customer, see if your sales team can help, or at least take the feedback that you want to be able to work in a lab setting and spend more time testing than reinstalling.
And along the way, check out the other virtualization players (and the alternatives to VMware and Microsoft management platforms… even Xtravirt’s vPi for Raspberry Pi). Wouldn’t hurt to get involved in the respective communities, follow some interesting folks on Twitter and Google+, and hope for the best.
Did you say something about Doctor Who up there?
Yeah, and I should share something else with you.
When I saw the mention of the custard truck, my first thought was honestly not frozen concoctions in general. Obviously, it was the first Matt Smith story on Doctor Who, Eleventh Hour, wherein he tries to find some food to eat at Amy Pond’s home after regenerating. He ends up going with fish fingers (fish sticks) and custard (not the frozen kind).
So I made a comment on Twitter, not directed at anyone, saying “I’d have more respect for Microsoft’s Hyper-V Custard if fish fingers were offered on the side.”
And this really happened.
So even if they’re discouraging me and other technologists from effectively labbing their products, I have to give them credit for a sense of humor. Not usually what you expect to come out of Redmond, now is it?
Mr Jones posted an article that really annoyed me until I read his well-reasoned response to the well-reasoned comments. Check out his interpretation of the TechNet subscription and brave the comments for some very sane discussions.
A couple of pieces from the Microsoft team about their marketing activity. Fun read, and the source of the truck photos above.
tardis.wikia.com definitions and a BBC video clip from Youtube,to help you understand the Twitter exchange.