VMware Maps Out Its Future at VMworld 2008

At VMworld 2008 today, VMware’s (NYSE: VMW) user conference being held through Thursday in Las Vegas, the virtualization giant unveiled strategies aimed squarely at the enterprise amid a backdrop of increasing competition from players like Microsoft.

Those strategies center around VMware’s Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), its combination of infrastructure, application and cloud services for the datacenter. They also include its vCloud cloud computing initiative and VMware View, the development of VMware’s client virtualization platform.

Products supporting these efforts, as well as ancillary applications developed by VMware partners, will begin hitting the market in 2009, Bogomil Balkansky, VMware’s senior director of product management, told InternetNews.com.

In addition to extending VMware’s virtual infrastructure capabilities to fend off growing challenges from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), the offerings aim to better position VMware’s tools as a way for datacenter managers to cut costs by leveraging clusters of inexpensive commodity x86s.

VMware also seeks to open the door to heavy involvement from its partners, who are becoming increasingly important to the vendor. That’s especially true with Microsoft’s burgeoning presence in the virtualization market tempting many VMware partners to also team up with the Redmond, Wash. giant to hedge their bets.

Each of VMware’s upcoming offerings is designed to provide a different piece of the puzzle for datacenter managers, it said.

“VMware Infrastructure Services, part of VDC-OS, seamlessly aggregates servers, storage and networks as a pool of on-premise cloud resources,” Balkansky said.

Meanwhile, the vCloud initiative “will let customers seamlessly integrate multiple datacenters or federate internal datacenters with clouds offsite,” while VMware View, the vendor’s universal client strategy, will “let the user take his personal workspace with him wherever he goes and access his data and applications from any end point device,” Balkansky said.

VMware’s shift of focus away from hypervisors to its virtual infrastructure has been expected since Microsoft began moving into the virtualization market. After VMware was forced to offer a free version of its ESX hypervisor recently, VMware said it would focus on high-availability and live migration features.

Leveraging the datacenter OS

With VDC-OS, VMware aims to offer “a comprehensive way to abstract, aggregate and allocate servers, storage and the network in the datacenter, not just servers,” Balkansky said. It is also building a set of services to help applications with availability, security and scalability, he said.

VMware’s partners will be heavily involved in building out some of the capabilities of VDC-OS, Balkansky added.

By aggregating servers, storage and networks, VDC-OS creates “an internal cloud inside the datacenter,” which will enable customers to leverage inexpensive, commodity x86 hardware, Balkansky said.

“Everybody has heard Google’s story about how they buy very cheap servers and have built this massively scalable datacenter that’s very resilient,” Balkansky added. “We’re enabling this type of efficiency and lights-out automation for any customer, not just for Google.”

VMware also is building applications into the VDC-OS platform to provide availability, scalability and security. These include Application vServices, which will offer fault tolerance; Data Recovery; VMSafe, a collaborative effort that will more than a dozen security partners creating solutions for virtualized environments courtesy of VMware APIs; and Hot Add, which will enable users to add more virtual memory, virtual CPUs and virtual network interface cards to a virtual machine on the fly, Balkansky said.

For aggregating networks, VDC-OS will have a new capability designed to considerably ease network deployment and management. Called the VNetwork Distributed Switch, the new feature will enable customers to configure networks on clusters of up to 16 ESX hosts with one switch — instead of the current setup of needing one switch for each host.

Page 2: Storage and management

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Virtual machines gobble up storage resources just like physical servers do, and VMware is offering vStorage Thin Provisioning and vStorage Link Clones to manage storage. Thin Provisioning enables system administrators to allocate fewer physical resources than usual to back up the virtual memory provided to a virtual machine, thus stretching IT staffs’ physical resources further, Balkansky said. As the physical resources get used up, the system alerts system administrators to add more.

Link Clones work along the same principles as incremental backup does — once a master copy is made, only the changes are stored. This works for clusters of virtual machines that are similar, such as Web server or application server farms, Balkansky said.

For easier application deployment, VMware is offering vApp, which consists of a bundle of virtual machines that together support a multi-tiered application. The machines also are labeled with associated operational policies and service-level agreements, Balkansky said.

“Once you deploy a vApp on the VDC-OS, it knows how to handle the vApp based on the specifications included,” he added.

The vApp leverages a proposed Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) standard called Open Virtual Machine Format (OVF), which enables users to bundle virtual applications with operating systems, calls and hooks, wrapped up in metadata about the system in XML . The DMTF is an industry organization leading the development, adoption and promotion of interoperable management standards.

Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), which is on the DMTF board, is leveraging the standard in its Oracle Templates.

Managing the system

Installing an application means nothing if it cannot be managed, and a scarcity of adequate tools to manage virtualized environments has been bothering enterprise IT for some time. Several major vendors, noting the lack, have extended their tools for managing the physical environment to the virtual environment.

VMware has now entered the fray, offering management tools under its vCenter label. They will “help manage every aspect of VDC-OS from provisioning vApps and virtual machines to capacity management to ongoing configuration control — the entire lifecycle,” Balkansky said.

However, vCenter is not meant to replace tools from vendors specializing in management, and VMware will integrate its management set with products from BMC, IBM, HP and “other big vendors,” Balkansky added.

Meanwhile, VMware has signed up more than 100 cloud service providers to support its vCloud initiative. These include software and processing solutions vendor SunGard, telecommunications giant Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) and Savvis, (NASDAQ: SVVS) which offers IT infrastructure as a service. The cloud service providers have committed to providing cloud computing services that can be leveraged by customers using VDC-OS, Balkansky said.

For the end client, VMware is announcing a client virtualization platform that will run directly on laptops or desktops, Jerry Chen, VMware’s senior director for desktop virtualization, told InternetNews.com. It will enable customers to use the same tools IT staffs rely on to provision and deploy client- and server-based systems.

“The desktop of the future will be a combination of your computer, Gmail, online applications like Salesforce and your smart phone,” Chen said. “Ultimately, end users want their desktop to follow them, not their device, so it shouldn’t matter where they’re connecting from or what they’re using to connect with. They want a single view.”

At the same time, enterprises want to be able to manage these disparate devices. Next year, VMware will announce the vClient initiative, which will provide an integrated platform for server- and client-based virtualization and will extend client management to laptops and offline devices, the company said.

This “will be a product, as well as partnerships, as we’re not going to do this alone,” Chen added.

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