The VMware blues

Would you believe a major software vendor released a patch for their flagship program that made it impossible to run their software? Believe it. That's exactly what happened with VMware.

On August 12th, users throughout the U.S. tried to turn on their ESX 3.5 Update 2 and ESXi Server 3.5 Update 2 hypervisors and ... were told that their VMware licenses had expired. That's always a great way to win friends and influence software license sales.

The problem, which came with Update 2 and appeared about two and a half weeks ago, was that VMware developers had left beta code in the ESX 3.5 and ESXi Update 2 patches that expired on August 12th. If you used the patch, like a good little system administrator, and then switched on your virtual servers on August 12th, you found that they were as dead as doornails.

How? How could any serious developer group do this? How could any quality assurance team let this get by them? This isn't rocket-science. It's barely computer science. Lots of beta and test programs have this kind of code in them. It's usually set off by itself so all you have to do is pull that one section out when the program is ready to go.

Heck, it's not even usually part of the real program. It's just a block of code you stick in place of the real licensing check routines.

VMware's new CEO Paul Maritz apologized to users in an open letter immediately after reports of the problem came in and the fix was released. If I'm a VMware user I'm not sure that's enough.

People rely on VMware to run their businesses. This isn't like not being able to get your Google e-mail for a few hours. That's a major pain in the rump, but it won't keep your business from operating. This, I have no doubt, actually kept some businesses from doing anything for about a day.

Can your business afford to be dark for a day? I don't think so.

Now, I have long thought that VMware was in trouble. The company is getting tag-teamed by Microsoft on one side with its Hyper-V in Server 2008 and Red Hat with KVM on the other. On top of that, you have OpenVZ, the open-source side of Parallels and Citrix with Xen lining up to get their turn at VMware.

After this, can anyone really believe VMware has much of a future? Ironically, I recently suggested that one of VMware's basic mistakes is not going open source. Whether or not you believe, as I do, that open source is one of the best ways to develop software, one thing is for certain: There's no way that this bad beta code would have made it into production machines if it had been open-sourced.

Oh well, too late now.

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