The art of software strategy these days seems to lie in the ability to slash and burn, rampaging through hypergrowth markets, then building new edifices on the flattened land. The latest evidence comes from VMware's announcements that basically add up to building out a Virtual Datacenter Operating System that collates management of servers, storage and network to control a cloud-based infrastructure.

This is VMware admitting that virtualisation belongs in the OS and demonstrating its desire to become the systems management master of the universe, a sort of CA Unicenter for massive byte factories. Of course, Microsoft and others have long said that virtualisation belongs in the OS but then they would say that, wouldn't they? VMware will keep on taking the revenue from standalone hypervisor sales as long as the oil keeps gushing out but its tacit admission that virtualisation is now another layer in the software stack will see the firm attempt to take the battle to higher ground where even higher spoils at stake.

The tell-tale signs have been there for some time. The appointment of a new CEO is often revealing and the selection of Paul Maritz to replace Diane Greene was interesting in several ways. First, it suggested that VMware was moving away from the roots planted by company founders, Greene and her husband Mendel Rosenblum (Greene and Rosenblum are no longer at the company). Second, Maritz joined VMware's parent EMC through the acquisition of his startup. That company was called Pi and just happened to be a cloud computing company, although details of its technology are rare as hens' teeth. Third, Maritz was once a highly successful Microsoft lieutenant who oversaw the rise of Windows on the server.

So, the sum total of the changing of the guard in the office of the chief executive saw EMC gain a new VMware chief who understands cloud computing and understands how a key rival works. The aim of VMware now is to sit on top of the cloud, whether it is located on the premises of companies, in shared facilities, or in Google-sized processing plants that pack in a changing herd of tenants from all over the world. The winner (winners) in finding a way to that position gains the sort of power that Microsoft got when it made Windows the dominant operating system for volume systems.

All the familiar faces will want to have the same perch on the cloud from IBM and Fujitsu, through Sun and Cisco, to Dell and HP, and it remains to be seen what combination of software, hardware, networking and services is the magic potion. It should all be very interesting to watch.

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