VMware Stares Down Virtualization Rivals

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-09-30

VMware Stares Down Virtualization Rivals

The world around VMware is changing, but CEO Paul Maritz, who took control of the company earlier this year after co-founder Diane Greene was ousted, is looking to ensure that VMware remains the No. 1 vendor of virtualization technology. In addition to the challenges of keeping its virtualization fresh in an ever-changing IT world, VMware is facing stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft with its Hyper-V hypervisor.

eWEEK Staff Writer Scott Ferguson caught up with Maritz at VMworld in Las Vegas last month. Maritz discussed the future of virtualization, what VMware is doing to maintain its position as king of the x86 virtualization hill and why the company can never stand still.

Why is VMware focusing so heavily on the cloud, as opposed to updating what it already has or some products that could come out in six months?

Key point to correct there-the cloud is not our only focus.

The three key initiatives are, No. 1, the virtual data center operating system, No. 2, vCloud, No. 3, vClient.

So our key initiative really is the virtual data center operating system, not the cloud. There's a cloud dimension to it, but our focus is really on how we allow our customers to build upon the technology we already have to strengthen their use of virtualization, to achieve much more fundamentally efficient and flexible usage of their computing infrastructure.

We believe that, in doing so, it will open up opportunities for them to federate with the external cloud, but it starts, first and foremost, with the virtual data center operating system.

Why did you decide to go with the term "operating system"?

This was a debate, and the reason we did it is because, even though we looked at many other terms, in the final analysis, when we talked to our customers and outlined what we were trying to do for them technically, they sort of looked at us and said, "Oh, I see-you're building a data center operating system." And so we eventually said, "Yes, that's what we're doing."

Did you worry at all that that would be confusing, or take away from what Linux does or what Microsoft does?

Yeah, we were obviously concerned about that because we're not directly competing with either Linux or Windows; we're building an infrastructure that fits in and around, underneath, both Windows and Linux and future application strategies or approaches.

These concepts, these three "V's" that you talked about, is that something that VMware was working toward before you came on, or was that something that you decided to bring on when you came over from EMC?

Clearly, the seeds of all those were there. What I've tried to do is to help formalize and more clearly articulate them, and relate them to what we see as the major customer needs and forces in the industry today. So you can view it as an elaboration and a crispening of what was there before.

On one side you said you have the cloud, and you have the sort of very dynamic data center. What's the vision that VMware has about pulling all of these different things together?

First and foremost, we believe our customers need to have a way whereby they can essentially start using their internal resources as a giant computer and, in doing so, get maximum efficiency and flexibility out of it.

Now, they can't afford to rewrite all of their applications to do that, and the only strategy, really, to reach for that state is through increased use of virtualization. As we do that, though, we have to make sure that that strategy is open to all of the other partners who play in the data center-and, hence, the need for a virtual data center operating system.

It's that layer of software that allows our customers to start treating all of their internal resources as a giant pool that they can provision loads onto. It addresses both existing approaches to writing applications, like Windows and Linux, as well as future ways of writing applications. And it provides a way whereby specialized infrastructure vendors-whether they be storage or networking-can plug into that environment.

Pushing the Focus Away from VMware

I was talking with one analyst who said it was interesting that you guys have pushed the focus a little bit away from VMware, so we have all of these partnerships, such as Hewlett-Packard, on the desktop. Why did you decide to do that? Do you need their expertise?

The essence of being a strategic long-term platform is that you have to work with a broader set of people. The whole benefit of a platform is that it provides a way in which multiple parties can work together on behalf of the customer. So, as important as our technology is, that technology will provide a meeting point where we and our partners can work together.

The one company that you've mentioned again and again is Microsoft, and I know you're a former Microsoft executive. How is the world of virtualization changing, and how does VMware react to Microsoft and, to some extent, Citrix and smaller players coming in?

There are really two levels to it.

The most important thing is actually not for us to react to them-[but] to remain focused on what we see as the important things for our customers.

And, solving these three big problems: How do we allow [our customers]-with multiple, heterogeneous applications and operating systems in the environment-to become fundamentally more flexible and efficient? That's job No. 1 for us. That's the virtual data center operating system. How do we open the door for them to start using resources outside of their environment, in the cloud? That's Job No. 2. Then job No. 3: How do we really solve the desktop problem?

So, our first response is to remain focused on those three challenges and to make sure we execute well on them.

Now, we share some of that vision with Microsoft. Microsoft would like to solve some of those problems, as well, for our customers. So it's important that we maintain our lead. We are ahead of Microsoft in virtualization technology. They've announced that they are going to try to duplicate many of our features, but they're not at parity today. And it behooves us to stay ahead. So, when you're competing with strong competitors, you can't afford to make mistakes and you need to stay ahead.

Microsoft-and you probably know this better than anybody-has the resources and can probably rapidly improve a 1.0 product as they move along, so ... ?

So, if you stand still, you'll get picked off. [Laughs.] So, the key is not to stand still.

Microsoft: Rival, Partner

Is Microsoft the biggest challenge you face going forward? I mean, Citrix is doing some really interesting stuff. On the desktop side, they seem to be really competing against you strongly.

We have to look at a variety of people, but I think Microsoft is certainly the one that has the most ambitions across the board. So, in that sense, we have to pay attention to them.

And at the same time you also have to partner with Microsoft.

To an extent, because people are still running Windows Server 2008, and we have to make sure our solution works with Windows. And the essence of our solution is it works with existing applications-not just Windows, but Linux and other applications.

Linux is very important to the cloud and to this whole idea of the data center. What's your relationship now with Linux, and can you address whether VMware ESX is going to go open-source any time soon?

Those are two separate questions completely-they really are two different animals. We work with Linux vendors today. We're extending our support of Linux-we're working with both Red Hat and Novell in that regard.

Then, the second question about whether we should open-source ESX is really a separate decision. It's something we have thought about, and we don't shut the door on it.

But you've also said you really think you have to get your own products in order before you go down the open-source road.

That was really about, within this broader framework: To what extent do we support other hypervisors? And the answer is, in principle, we're not against supporting them; now we need to, as you said, get our basic challenges taken care of.

Can you explain to me how, if at all, your relationship with EMC will change? You did come over from EMC, and there's always been talk about how closely EMC wants to draw VMware into its fold. It seems like it would be great to have those two companies really close together, but, at the same time, you have to work with a lot of other storage vendors.

The bottom line is, I don't see any big change there. EMC fully appreciates that VMware needs to have a large degree of independence. I don't see that changing. And, of the challenges I look at, this is not one of the big ones.

No plans, then, to spin off VMware?

I'm not making any announcements on EMC's behalf.

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