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Microsoft targets VMware with System Center 2012 licensing, packaging

The latest version of Microsoft’s management tool has VMware’s offerings in its sights, but it will need Windows Server 8 and Hyper-V 3.0 to complete the private cloud picture.

Microsoft unveiled a unified bundle of its System Center management tools for its private and hybrid cloud solutions this week, but at least one major analyst said it's likely to be nearly a year before all the pieces of the company's cloud strategy are all in place.

"This is a really important step that moves them closer to being more competitive with VMware," said Al Gillen, program vice president of system software for IDC.

"But there is one more piece of the puzzle they need and that is Windows Server 8 and Hyper-V 3.0. But this sets the stage and it makes it clear where Microsoft is going," Gillen added.

The company disclosed the immediate availability of the release candidate (RC) for System Center 2012. That combination will make the current eight management tools, which until now have been sold separately, available as a single suite for the first time, Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, said during the webcast.

"The design point is that everything is built for the private cloud," Nadella added.

Additionally, the bundle will be available in both "Standard" and "Datacenter" versions. The Datacenter version will allow users to deploy an unlimited number of virtual machines (VM).

One of the advantages of creating a combined suite is speed of deployment, which will be reduced from days to hours, Microsoft officials said. But the new bundles indicate what is likely most important for the company's cloud plans going forward.

"The real news here is how they are licensing it and the fact they have two versions of it," IDC's Gillen said, adding that the company may be headed for "less granularity" in other products over time.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if that is an indicator of what Microsoft will do in the future for other products that come out ... Like the whole damn portfolio of Windows and Windows Servers," he said.

While there may be some benefits to such a move, there may also be problems with it in terms of less granularity for customers.

"The problem I have is -- there is a little less granularity than there could be; meaning it is a big jump between the Standard edition where you get to manage two servers and the next step up is the Datacenter version which is unlimited," Gillin said.

Don Retallack, research vice president for systems management and security at analyst firm Directions On Microsoft, largely agrees, but said that the company's strategy appears cohesive.

"Microsoft does have a good argument with the whole System Center 2012 line the way it is now to compete against VMware," Ratallack said. "Microsoft is clearly going after VMware, who charges more per VM than Microsoft."

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