VMware CEO Maritz Addresses Virtualization, the Cloud and Challenges from Microsoft

At the VMworld conference, VMware CEO and President Paul Maritz gives his first large-scale public address and offers a vision of VMware that moves virtualization beyond a server and data center consolidation technology and toward creating a platform that will drive a cloud computing infrastructure for both enterprises and third-party hosting companies. Maritz also addressed VMware's challenge from Microsoft when it comes to the future of virtualization.

LAS VEGAS-New VMware President and CEO Paul Maritz gave his first detailed public remarks at the start of the VMworld conference Sept. 16, and his keynote and opening comments ranged from how virtualization will enhance the emerging cloud computing infrastructure to the challenges VMware faces from Microsoft.

In his opening keynote, Maritz described VMware's vision for building out cloud computing infrastructures for VMware customers and for third-party hosting providers. This will include a set of new virtualization technology, management capabilities and services that VMware calls the Virtual Datacenter OS or VDC-OS.

While Maritz offered a broad outline of how these technologies will work and how VMware plans to bring these products into the marketplace, the bulk of the VDC-OS will not arrive until at least 2009. The first major step toward this goal will be a fundamental overhaul of VMware's Virtual Infrastructure suite. That update to the Virtual Infrastructure suite is also due in 2009.

The idea of a data center operating system seems to indicate that Maritz and VMware engineers are looking displace traditional Microsoft Windows or Linux operating systems. However, Maritz said after his keynote that displacement of the traditional OS is not the goal, although VMware's VDC-OS will resemble a traditional operating system in some ways.

"The application loads that it will handle are fundamentally different from the application loads that current operating systems handle, so this is drawing different points in lines in the hierarchy," Maritz said. "So, it has many parallels to the operating system in the sense that it provides services but it is not a traditional operating system. We expect that people will increasingly use the services to construct new types of applications loads that will fulfill the role that we currently see in the combination of traditional operating systems and applications."

With the VDC-OS plan, VMware plans to expand the reach of its virtualization platform so that it will touch all aspects of the data center. While virtualization has been traditionally used within x86 servers, VMware's plan to build cloud infrastructures means that the fundamental VMware software and management tools will now integrate with the data center's storage and networking as well as address aspects of creating new applications and security features.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said the VDC-OS and VMware's entrance into cloud computing will allow the company to create an even larger layer of abstraction within the data center.

"In old-style virtualization, the question was, Does it matter what kind of hardware it's running on? The answer is no," King said. "With the VDC-OS, it now doesn't matter what the OS is or what the platform is. The VDC-OS basically makes everything underneath it essentially transparent."

While VMware is looking to increase the capabilities of its own infrastructure platform to address the issues of building out a cloud both within an enterprise and also through a third-party provider, the company is also strengthening its partnerships with other key providers.

In the area of microprocessors, VMware worked with Intel to develop a technology called Flex Migration that Intel began offering with its Xeon 7400 series processors, which debuted Sept. 15. The technology will allow VMware's VMotion to better move virtual machines between sets of servers that use different Intel chip sets. This will work with new Intel processors and chip sets, including the upcoming microprocessors based on the "Nehalem" microarchitecture.

VMware is also working with Advanced Micro Devices on similar technologies for the Opteron processor. However, VMware has not developed a way to move virtual machines from an Intel platform to an AMD platform at this time.

It will take some time to pull all these pieces together and provide what VMware hopes will be a Google-like data center for individual enterprises, and Maritz said he believes this will develop during the next 12 to 24 months. VMware will also need to provide third-party providers the ability to federate their offerings with the data centers of individual businesses.

In the meantime, VMware is looking to fight off a number of challenges from Microsoft, Citrix Systems and a host of small virtualization companies. VMware is undergoing its own changes as Maritz takes over the company from co-founder and former CEO Diane Greene, who was forced out earlier in 2008.

What made VMware a force in the IT industry was that no other vendor was working with x86 virtualization when VMware was formed in 1998. Now, the field has shifted and Maritz views Microsoft as the main challenge to VMware dominance, he said, adding that he does believe that Microsoft is still behind when it comes to virtualization technology.

"You can never count Microsoft out ... and we cannot rest on our laurels," Maritz said.

During his post-keynote talk, Maritz also addressed some of conflicts VMware has with the open-source community regarding VMware's proprietary hypervisor. For his part, Maritz said he admired the efforts of the open-source community and said there has been a debate within VMware as to whether it should support open-source hypervisors such as Xen.

Ultimately, Maritz said VMware needs to address the challenges that are being made to its products before investing time and resources in open-source projects.

"We need get our act together around our own platform, but we are not religious about it," Maritz said.