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Report: Apple Drops VMware's ESXi for KVM

Typically, the only way Apple is connected in any way to virtualization is when people use Parallels or VMware Fusion to run Windows in a virtual machine on a Mac. But Apple's in virtualization news today, and in a way that may make VMware nervous.

Filing for Divorce
Kevin McLaughlin of CRN reported that Apple, the world's second most valuable company after Exxon Mobile Corp. (as of today), has cancelled its Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) with VMware and decided to start using open source KVM as its hypervisor.

The story, in which McLaughlin quotes "multiple" anonymous sources, is sketchy on how much of Apple's infrastructure runs on top of VMware, and whether or not Apple is ripping-and-replacing all its VMware stuff in favor of alternatives, or just some of it.

One of the sources he quotes said that Apple pays about $20 million through the ELA, and that it "… wasn't satisfied with the licensing terms VMware offered for the ELA extension," McLaughlin reports. I would take that to mean that Apple decided it wasn't getting enough ROI through the agreement. In addition, the report said that Apple's considering OpenStack and KVM to replace its private cloud infrastructure.

Following the Leader?
Why should this make VMware nervous? After all, $20 million isn't going to materially affect its bottom line, not when it's a $6 billion-plus company. But VMware constantly touts its offerings as the simplest to install and manage. If a company with an infrastructure as gigantic as Apple's has decided that it can do without the bells and whistles of vSphere, vCloud Air and all the rest, other companies may follow suit. Apple's hugely influential, as everyone knows.

Open source software like KVM isn't known for being user friendly. OpenStack in particular still has a reputation for being very complex to install and manage, which is a big reason it hasn't made huge inroads yet in public cloud, which continues to be dominated by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. If Apple believes that either 1) there's enough third-party tools out there to smooth the management's rough edges, or 2) that it will cost less than $20 million annually to hire experts or train its own to virtualize with KVM, it could spell trouble for VMware.

The high cost of ELAs for VMware has been a complaint for years. In that way, it's like most other companies that dominate a space. But when alternatives crop up, and get to the point where they're viable enough to get into production use, other business take notice.

When 'Good Enough' Becomes Good Enough
In that way, at least, it's analogous to Hyper-V. Microsoft's hypervisor was no match for ESX (and later ESXi) for several years. But Hyper-V is now good enough to compete. It's still not near as feature-rich as vSphere, but for many shops, it doesn't need to be; it just needs to be good enough.

If we're at the point where a titan like Apple has decided that KVM is good enough, it should send tremors through VMware.

Posted by Keith Ward on 10/05/2015 at 2:07 PM


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