VMware's Road Map Directed Squarely at the Cloud

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-07-15

VMware's Road Map Directed Squarely at the Cloud

Having pretty much conquered the world of data center virtualization software for the present time, VMware now wants the IT galaxy to view it as more than simply an important middleware provider.

It wants to be seen as two new things: a first-rank cloud computing platform provider and a vendor that can serve all three business markets.

VMware's ESX server and vSphere management platform certainly have become pervasive in the data center, despite intense competition from Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V. However, nobody doubts those two will see increased market share over time; some analysts believe Hyper-V will stabilize at about 30 percent of the market.

But for now, and for the last five years, VMware has been the wizard of the virtualization castle. VMware has deployments in nearly 90 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies and in many other large enterprises not included therein. Now it's casting its nets over a wider area, planning on nabbing high numbers of smaller business fish.

VMware released a new version of its main product, vSphere 4.1, on July 13, about 14 months after vSphere 4 started shipping; VMware hadn't updated the platform for three years prior to Version 4. It also lowered its prices to attract more midrange and smaller businesses.

vSphere 4.1 includes improvements that most new data center software brings to the table: faster performance, more scaling capability and better management control. The continuing growth of data in all its forms and the need for more granular control over it demands these improvements.

"A year ago, when we shipped vSphere [4.0], we talked about vSphere being a foundation for the cloud. At that time, a lot of the industry was equating the cloud [only] to services provided by Google services and Amazon services on line," Raghu Raghuram, VMware's senior vice president and general manager of Virtualization and Cloud Platforms, told eWEEK.

"Back then, we viewed vSphere as sort of industrial architecture for IT. We saw that IT has moved from mainframes to client/server and to the Web; cloud is the next thing. Now we're beginning Internet-scale deployments and starting to build clouds in the data center -- private clouds. Just over the course of the last 12 months, we have seen this become a reality."

Enterprises in general are beginning to understand the cloud concept. The more advanced ones are not only interested in what cloud services can do for them, but they're also interested in building their own private clouds and in interconnecting those with external cloud services, Raghuram said.

"vSphere and the [management] products we have around it are aimed squarely at that proposition," Raghuram said.

Customers get virtualization but are still learning about clouds

The trend VMware is seeing in the midrange and SMB market is that companies generally start off modernizing their data centers and IT systems by adding a virtualization layer first, Raghuram said. Once they've reorganized their applications and storage pools, then they look at adding cloud services where needed. 

The more adventurous -- and that usually means larger-budget -- enterprises then explore building a private cloud system to tie together the company internally and link it to a supply chain and/or business partners to improve efficiencies and save costs over time.

"For smaller companies, it's different; they can't do IT in the same way because it is often too complicated for them," Raghuram said. "But that doesn't mean they can't get help to modernize."

VMware Looks to the Cloud

Customers generally understand virtualization and how it makes IT systems more efficient, Raghuram said, but there's still a lot of education needed about the nature and advantages of cloud computing.

"The larger companies certainly know about all this. What we're seeing now that we didn't see a year ago is newer customers saying, 'Now that I get it, tell me how does it map to what I'm doing, and how do I get there?'" Raghuram said. "Very often the 'how do you get there' starts with virtualization."

Raghuram said that globally, the geographic sectors that are growing fastest in the deployment of virtualized systems include China, India, Russia, South America and parts of Eastern Europe.

Most businesses have their legacy applications that already work, so why should they change anything if it isn't broken?

"One of the great virtues of virtualization is that it takes existing applications and drops them into a more modern environment and gives them more modern attributes. So application migration has always been a big use case for us -- forget about the cloud," Raghuram said.

"Once they put that existing app into a virtual machine which runs on a cloud infrastructure -- that being a vSphere structure inside an enterprise, or at a service provider that's external -- they can take the same application and move it around," Raghuram said. "That assumes that the data can also move around. But certainly, inside of a data center, that data is available. So that's how they go about it."

Gemstone acquisition will loom large

VMware is very aware that to build a high-functioning cloud system, the data needs to be as close as possible -- at least in virtuality -- to the virtual machine running the workload. Raghuram said that VMware's recent acquisition of Gemstone and its prized data fabric technology are going to do just that.

Gemstone will become strategically more important to the company as time goes on, Raghuram said.  Gemstone's fabric insulates the application from the underlying physical location of the data, by either caching the data or moving it around, Raghuram said.

"This makes the data appear local to the application for better response, etc.," Raghuram said. "But the real source of the data could be back inside the enterprise, or in some other location."

In order words, it's about abstracting the source of data to make the application run faster and more efficiently.

"We're really excited about this technology. You'll see us talking about this in the days and months to come," Raghuram said.

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