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The Future of VMware

VMware

Much has been made of the recent CEO change at VMware, but what does it really tell us about the future of the company?

Yes, the consensus is that former CEO Diane Greene clashed with the leadership of EMC (NYSE: EMC). Yes, new CEO Paul Maritz has a solid leadership pedigree and an insider's knowledge of the workings of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). Yes, 2008 is a year of ramped-up competition in the virtualization space. But what does all of that mean when it comes to the direction of VMware?

"VMware's (NYSE: VMW) portfolio is exclusively virtualization, with no divestiture, and the hypervisor is being commoditized," said Richard Jones, vice president and service director, datacenter strategies, Burton Group. "Clearly, there are serious challenges, but Joe Tucci [EMC’s chairman] knows what's going on in the market. Diane Green did a great job, but going forward he needed someone who thinks differently."

What "thinking differently" translates into is mostly guesswork, but it's educated guesswork. Maritz came to EMC through the acquisition of Pi, a company with the tagline "Moving from personal computing to personal information." Interpretation: moving from personal computing to cloud computing.


The next front in the virtualization fight: virtual desktops

While VMware has dominated server virtualization, it's been slow to move into the virtual desktop space. Citrix Systems (NASDAQ: CTXS) probably has the lead here, and it partners with Microsoft.

Then again, you could say, "What virtual desktop space?" Granted, there's not much going on there, but most analysts and industry insiders believe it's just a matter of time.

Virtual desktops offer any number of advantages over traditional, client-tethered desktops, including device-agnostic access to applications, greater hardware efficiency, reduced client device costs and tighter IT control over computing environments.

With virtual desktops, though, comes the need for better infrastructure to support those desktops. "VMware's next big opportunity is to become the infrastructure provider for cloud computing," Jones said.

Part of Microsoft's virtualization strategy is to turn the hypervisor into a commodity. VMware should turn the tables and use the same strategy with the OS. What better way to stave of Microsoft's incursion into virtualization than to devalue Microsoft’s own crown jewel?

When I posed this scenario to Leena Joshi, senior product marketing manager for VMware, she said, "All of the services we provide are OS and application independent. Users don't want the headaches of all the configuration and customization that is common today."

As applications are turned into services, the OS disappears. In fact, you could argue that the important software platform may well become the browser -- for end users, at least. For IT, it will likely be some sort of datacenter management suite.


Moving from applications to services

"Our vision of cloud computing has to do with how enterprise computing resources become pools of resources available to a variety of applications," Joshi said.

"Enterprises don't care about the application or the OS as such. What enterprises want are productivity and performance. What they want are service levels that can be agreed upon and measured. They care about performance parameters, about downtime, about charge-backs. Our vision of cloud computing is that applications will become platform agnostic. It won’t matter where they physically reside, where users access them from, or even what devices those users choose."

VMware isn't placing all of its bets on the cloud, though. Another perhaps complementary model is to package mission-critical applications as virtual appliances. The OS is confined. The application is single-purpose, and the goal is to eliminate the problems that come with multiple installations, ongoing configuration changes and numerous conflicting processes. Maintenance costs are reduced, security should be improved and process conflicts are eliminated.

Next page: A controlled environment