One of last week's more interesting booth conversations had nothing to do with one of the demos in the booth. It had to do with training and support. A gentleman from a pharmaceutical company was saying that he's looking forward to Windows Server 2008/Viridian and SCVMM because he'll be able to reduce his training budget for virtualization by nearly half. He told me that VMware's documentation and training courses are very expensive compared to Microsoft's and don't have the same level of detail offered by Microsoft. He went on to say that aside from training, he's dealing with ISVs that don't support their apps running inside VMs. He has turned to VMware, but their support ends at the VM. His line to me was "VM support right now is a series of asteriks and fine print on vendors' web sites." I thought that was a funny line. He went on to say that while Microsoft's technical support policy is well documented, but he hopes it broadens so Microsoft takes tier-1 support calls for Windows Server running on 3rd-party hypervisors. And he predicted that with Windows Server 2008/Viridian, his other software vendors will get on board with virtualization.
I went on to share the good news that people are looking into ways we could offer broader tech support of Windows Server running on non-MS hypervisors. And I pointed out a few examples of expanded tech support:
via the agreement with Novell (announced prior to last year's VMworld conference), we'll provide joint tech support for SLES 10 SP1 running on Windows Server 2008
Microsoft's Partner Advantage Support Agreement provides a software partner (such as SWsoft) with pre-arranged, tier-2 support assistance to solve the partner's customers' technical issues
we offer support on the virtual machine add-ins for the 10 non-windows OSes that can run as guest OS on Virtual Server 2005 R2
It struck me that training and support are two hidden issues and costs of virtualization. But these opertational issues tend to be viewed by customers, in essence, as the cost of doing business. And neither item is sexy enough for a demo, let alone wall art (photo).
But are training and support issues important enough, in the end, to actually tip a customer's decision to choose one vendor over another? I'm not sure. In my head I'm drawing a parallel between a closer in baseball, who enters the game late, isn't often the focus of conversation but is a must-have service in baseball, and doesn't upset the winning formula -instead ends the game quickly and decisively. However, as we saw last week at the Giants game, the closer can be a major sore spot – in this case, giving up a 3-run homer in the last inning to lose the game. Perhaps the Giants' closer needed better training and support in AAA ball.