Pick a story and stick to it, VMware (NYSE:VMW). Are you completely recession-proof or just a little bit less vulnerable than the average business? In its latest earnings report, the virtual-server expert claimed a little bit of both.

Last quarter was a sterling performance, including 32% year-over-year sales growth to $472 million and $0.21 of net income per share, up from $0.18 per share last year. Freshly anointed CEO Paul Maritz brushed aside the financial panic, saying that "commercial and government organizations are increasingly forced to do more with less, they're moving VMware to the top of their short list of strategic priorities."

That makes sense in light of the potential cost savings in a virtualized data center. If that's how things are working out in real life, then VMware should in fact gain from a depressed economy. And when timely cost savings are of the essence, I'd say that the company's leading market share should expand, too. Nobody has the time to evaluate and certify competing products like Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Hyper-V or Citrix Systems' (NASDAQ:CTXS) Xen. Just go with the proven leader.

The future is cloudy in more than one respect, as financial visibility shortens when nobody knows where the economy is going next week or next month. But VMware's next Big Thing is a computing cloud infrastructure model. Treating your entire IT department as one giant, amorphous, self-healing cloud is meant to simplify the data center manager's job and virtually eliminate system downtime. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) is in on that vision with new software-based network switches and management tools. As everyone from salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) to Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) plans to incorporate some aspects of cloud computing, VMware aims to sell and support the engines that power the entire revolution.

So that's the right hand. The left one might not have heard the news yet.

Management guidance for the next quarter points to the lower end of previously announced sales targets for the 2008 fiscal year. That does not sound like a market accelerated by hardships. VMware is mortal, just like everyone else.

All in all, VMware seems to have its act together with solid financial results, a positive outlook, and bright-eyed plans. Plus, the stock is looking pretty darn cheap.

Further Foolishness:

VMware is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Microsoft is an Inside Value selection, and Amazon.com is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.