Why John Chambers’ congrats to Nadella may be as much about VMware as Microsoft

Within two hours of Satya Nadella’s ascension to Microsoft’s(s msft) top job on Tuesday, Cisco(s csco) Systems CEO John Chambers weighed in with a “personal” yet very public note of kudos.
The post:

“I offer personal congratulations to Satya Nadella on his appointment as Microsoft’s next CEO. I know him well and I know he will do a great job for Microsoft as he is a seasoned, world-class technology leader. I trust him and I know he instills trust in his customers and partners. I look forward to continuing to work with him and Microsoft to better serve our customers together.”

Some outlets treated this as an affirmation of Nadella’s considerable social skills: “Look, this guy is soooo nice even his enemies love him!” Don’t get me wrong, Nadella is a likeable guy, but a cynic would say that Cisco saw this as a way to take a shot at VMware(S vmw) without actually calling it out. Other CEOs — Dell’s Michael Dell, for example — also offered congratulations when asked, but Dell didn’t proactively post a statement to its corporate website. That’s sort of telling.
VMware and Cisco are sometimes allies, but they’ve been more and more at odds since VMware entered the software defined networking (SDN) arena by buying Nicira in 2012.  SDN, if adopted, would commoditize networking hardware, the foundation of Cisco’s business.
VMware and Cisco are two of the three partners in the VCE effort, which has likewise been stressed by internal rivalries.  Asked whether the Chambers note might be sort of passive-aggressive message to VMware, a Cisco insider said: “Oh yeah. Any chance to stick it to them.’
Microsoft and Cisco have their own competitive issues, of course — Webex vs. Skype — but Microsoft also the Hyper-v hypervisor that Cisco, and other tech companies, are increasingly using as a hedge against VMware’s ESX. Cisco isn’t the only vendor that views VMware as more of a rival than a partner these days.
Given the growing dissension between Cisco and VMware, that’s how I read this post.
Or maybe, the congratulatory note is just a congratulatory note.