VMware Focuses Virtualization in the Cloud

New VMware CEO Paul Maritz is planning to bring the virtualization company deeper into the cloud by providing the tools to create a virtual, flexible IT infrastructure for the enterprise and for hosting providers.

VMware is positioning itself to provide a layer of virtualization technology needed to create a cloud computing infrastructure.

When newly minted CEO Paul Maritz spoke to analysts July 22 following the release of VMware's 2008 second-quarter financial results, he told the audience that the virtualization company is moving into a new stage of its development that would include a vigorous focus on creating virtual environments for cloud computing infrastructures.

The fact that VMware, which is still considered the leading vendor of x86 virtualization technology, is developing virtualization for the cloud should not come as a shock. Maritz himself oversaw EMC's cloud division before moving to VMware and former CEO Diane Greene had spoken of moving virtualization from a mere consolidation tool to a technology that would bring a new level of automation and systems management into the data center, which then leads to a cloud infrastructure.

Cloud computing holds the promise of allowing enterprises to save money and resources by offloading some or all of their IT infrastructure to vendors that provide applications or software infrastructures that are delivered through the Internet. What VMware and other vendors are trying to do now is build out the infrastructure and applications needed to create a cloud environment.

"The VMware infrastructure technology has a lot of relevance both in the cloud itself by helping people build and operate clouds, but also as an onramp to the cloud that allows existing customers to easily migrate their compute loads outside of their environments and into the cloud and back again," Maritz said during the July 22 earnings call.

While Maritz, a former Microsoft executive who became VMware's CEO earlier in July, did not specifically indicate when VMware's new cloud computing technology would hit the market, it seems clear that the company will detail its efforts at the VMworld conference in September.

Chris Wolf, an analyst with the Burton Group, said he believes that cloud computing will develop in two different ways in the next five to 10 years. The first is the public cloud that will be created by hosting providers and the other is a private cloud created by enterprises for exclusive use by their employees and IT departments for business purposes.

In both cases, Wolf said he sees VMware looking to become the primary provider of not only virtualization technology to help consolidate the physical infrastructure, but also of resources such as VMotion, which allows the IT department to move a virtual machine from one physical server to another, or to create virtual appliances to deliver SAAS (software as a service) to individual customers of the cloud.

The fact that VMware is also now giving away a free version of its ESXi hypervisor-the piece of software that makes virtualization possible-is also a step toward this cloud model.

"The fact that VMware is offering ESXi for free does go toward the cloud model because it's heading down a path to data center automation," Wolf said.

To an extent, Amazon.com is already pushing this model with its own Elastic Compute Cloud, which is powered through a Xen-based hypervisor. Microsoft is also gearing up to offer its own version of a cloud computing solution, which Wolf said he believes will take advantage of the company's Hyper-V hypervisor as well as the natural advantage of having so many Windows-based applications already in the data center.

The next significant step for VMware, and the key to its own cloud computing solution, is automation and life-cycle management, which will make it easier to allocate resources in the cloud and allow the user to draw upon those resources when needed.

So far, VMware is using acquisitions to help out with this part of the initiative. In 2007, VMware acquired Dunes Technologies to create its Lifecycle Manager to help automate the creation, management and removal of virtual machines from the data center infrastructure.

In 2008, VMware bought B-hive Networks, which creates its own virtual appliance to test the performance of both a physical and virtual machine. This acquisition will allow VMware's Virtual Infrastructure management suite to better monitor the applications running on the physical hardware and within virtual machines, and that information is then passed on to the Lifecycle Manager to determine if additional compute resources are needed.