Thoughts on the VMTN Subscription Idea

Mike Laverick has started something of a campaign to bring back the VMTN Subscription, which was something like the Microsoft TechNet or MSDN models. I’m a TechNet subscriber and for $349 I get access to most everything Microsoft has. For testing purposes this is great. I don’t have to spend a lot of time dealing with activation timeouts, I can just test things and leave the my own test environment up and running for when I want to test new VMware Tools, or whatever. I think that’s fair, since I buy real Windows licenses for every other VM that I have (dev, test, QA, production, etc.).

Right now, if you want a test environment your options are to pay for real licenses (expensive for most businesses, regardless of size, especially for an environment that’ll just sit there most of the time), reuse a license from a production environment (against the EULA), or you can struggle with the 60 day timeouts (which is probably also against the EULA). None are acceptable for a person who wants to maintain a standing test environment, ready to be messed with at any time. Likewise, this also makes it difficult for the people with┬áhome labs to operate, too (which is most bloggers). Even people who run test setups in VMware Workstation are thoroughly inconvenienced here, too.

Let’s also think about developers. How many developers are out there working with VMware’s products? In comparison to Microsoft it’s a very low number, because the barrier to entry is so high. Take vSphere HA, for example. There’s one product, Symantec’s, that handles the application HA part. One. If you look at the other APIs in vSphere (vStorage, VMsafe, vNetwork, etc.) who else is writing software to them? Almost nobody, in comparison to the developer ecosystem for Microsoft products. Unless you have a billion dollar market cap you aren’t a VMware developer.

I’d love a way to easily get a small 365-day/10 VM/32 GB/4 socket license for EVERY product VMware has, for $500 or less a year. Perhaps with a limited amount of support so that people can report bugs. It would even be a great way to drive some sales of add-on products like SRM, vCenter Operations, etc., too (a la Solarwinds, the grassroots model), mainly because of the easy access to the products via a salesman-free channel. I’m pessimistic that I’ll ever see this from VMware, an EMC company, though. The current limited, closed developer ecosystem leaves a lot of opportunity for VMware to develop and sell products at monopoly prices. It’s also not in the interest of the very few incumbent companies out there developing for VMware to have VMware open things up.

The problem for VMware is that, like it or not, they really opened the door for Microsoft in July with their licensing change. And now, when (not if) the CIO wants to look at Hyper-V, his company can do so for $349 a year. Likewise, anybody who wants to develop for Hyper-V can do so, for $349 a year. Though it’s generally regarded that Microsoft’s virtualization products are nowhere near as good as the VMware ones, they’re actually in the hands of the people that matter, becoming the product people know. And because developers are actually encouraged by Microsoft they’re building products to dull the rough edges of the offerings. It won’t be long before enough rough spots are fixed and “good enough at 20% of the total price” starts winning a lot of people over.

The “good enough” problem is also the problem the VMTN idea presents in the case of SMBs. Would a VMTN Subscription offering cause SMBs to abandon the Essentials Plus kit, priced at $5500ish? Maybe. Could you run a small business illicitly off of a combo of VMTN and Microsoft TechNet subscriptions? Probably. But those are the businesses that are going to switch to something cheaper, anyhow, or go straight to the public cloud. VMware solutions don’t really work for these small setups because they’re too expensive. It’s my opinion that these problems are worth ignoring, as it looks like Microsoft chose to do with TechNet. The potential upside in the enterprise space & ecosystem is well worth the risk that a few SMBs, who weren’t going to be VMware customers anyhow, will cheat.

So c’mon VMware, Mike’s got a great idea. Get your products back in the hands of the people who matter through RAM, VM, or socket-limited full copies of your products that only expire once a year. Get small & medium-sized developers engaged with YOUR platform and not your competitors. Make it super easy for all of us who are fans, bloggers, and loyal enterprise customers to work with your stuff and try new things, especially the expensive value-added apps. It’ll be worth your while.

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