Microsoft is swatting at VMware with its latest cloud initiative. The new private cloud solution aims to help businesses move faster, save money and compete better.

Dubbed Microsoft System Center 2012, the solution lets companies build and operate private clouds to deliver business applications across both private and public cloud platforms. The software is available in Release Candidate form.

"IT leaders tell me that private cloud computing promises to help them focus on innovation over maintenance, to streamline costs and to respond to the need for IT speed," said Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft Server and Tools Business. Nadella promised that System Center 2012 would pave the way for customers to "move beyond the industry hype and speculation" and move into private clouds.

Unlimited Virtual Machines

System Center 2012 integrates eight separate component products into one unified solution. That, Microsoft said, streamlines installation and reduces the time it takes to deploy from days down to hours.

Microsoft offers Standard and Datacenter editions of the product based on its virtualization requirements. System Center 2012 Datacenter edition licensing covers unlimited virtual machines, which means customers can continually grow private clouds without additional licensing costs for virtualizing their infrastructure and applications.

"Our private cloud will help us meet our goal of doubling Unilever's business without increasing our environmental footprint," said Mike Royle, enterprise Relevant Products/Services services IT director at Unilever. "Working with Avanade, we are betting on System Center 2012 as the management platform to extend our investments in virtualization toward private cloud, to automate processes, and to ensure the reliability of our infrastructure and application services."

Targeting VMware

Microsoft has been aiming at VMware for a while. Late last year, Microsoft poked fun at VMware's pricing fiasco for vSphere 5. The pricing drew the ire of customers, and Microsoft went on the offensive against the market-dominant virtualization player.

"Microsoft and VMware are in ever tighter competition. VMware has one of the legendary Microsoft guys running it these days, and he was selected as a result of a recognition that Microsoft would likely be VMware's largest threat," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "The companies are pointed at each other pretty solidly, at least with regard to virtualization."

Enderle was referring to Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware since July 2008. Maritz spent 14 years working at Microsoft, where he served as a member of the five-person executive committee that managed the overall company. As vice president of the Platform Strategy and Developer Group, among other roles, he oversaw the development and marketing of system software products, development tools, database products, and the complete Office and Exchange product lines.

"System Center 2012 is one of Microsoft's bigger cloud plays. Microsoft gets that they need to be very active in the cloud," Enderle said. "And Microsoft does have a massive presence in the cloud. Hotmail continues to be one of the largest cloud-based e-mail providers competing with Google on consumer-focused services, and Office 365 is positioned against Google Apps."