• 01/04/2013
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5 Things VMware Should Do In 2013

VMware's vision of the software-defined data center is still a long ways off and hard to achieve, but these steps will take it closer to its goals.
2. Give The Software-Defined Data Center Software-Defined Networking

The software-defined data center is a magnificent concept. But any practical implementation would have to include software-defined networking as part of the new, programmable data center operations, and we're not there yet. For VMware to provide it, it will need real networking expertise, but until recently it's been fair to ask: what networking expertise?

Most of the existing networking know-how originated down the road from VMware in San Jose, Calif., where Cisco Systems is located. Cisco provided the first hardware complement to ESX Server's virtual switch in its Unified Computing Architecture and Nexus 5000 switch. It also provided the first (and, for a time, the only) practical implementation of VMware's recommended approach to secure VLAN tunnels, with a VXLAN supporting switch. In this partnership, Cisco has been the senior partner, but both have benefited. Consider the example of Vblocks, the Cisco-VMware-EMC design collaborative that offers preconfigured and virtualized racks equipped with servers, storage and networking.

VMware leads in data center server virtualization and, with EMC as its parent company, it has storage virtualization well in hand. But, because it did not have the expertise to fulfill the networking needed for the software-defined data center, Cisco was able to assume the top position.

That's why VMware's acquisition of Nicira is so important. Nicira represents the next generation of virtualized networking based on the OpenFlow protocol. With Nicira, VMware can map out the network virtualization part and build it into its management console. Nicira's leadership in OpenStack's Quantum networking initiative also allows VMware to tap into the expertise contributed to the entire project. VMware needs this project to succeed to allow switching within the software-defined environment to connect to the rest of the world.

Even Nicira's ability to innovate may be too limited to fulfill all the demands of the flexible networks of the future. It certainly won't be able to fill all the gaps as VMware customers struggle to make the transition themselves. In fact, Cisco, Nicira and OpenFlow startups such as Big Switch have important roles to play, but it's questionable to me how long Cisco will wish to participate in propelling the software-defined data center forward. It's preferred baby steps in that direction, ones that don't threaten its switching hardware product lines.

Beyond that, there's the ongoing issue of virtualized resource management. A software-defined data center will have one management console, not a series of separate ones for the server admin, network manager and storage manager. Without commanding more networking expertise, VMware can't build out the software-defined data center's management console. It won't be enough to have adjustable dials for servers and storage, and oh, by the way, consult your nearest network manager if you don't like the network IT pre-assigned to you.

Changes in the virtual machine will require simultaneous changes in the network, just as it does in storage. When the virtual machine picks up and moves, storage has to move with it, perhaps to be reconfigured at the destination. Can networking do the same? Not today.

VMware must cultivate its own networking expertise and build out virtual network management capabilities in order to keep the concept of the software-defined data center alive. If we're talking about a splendid concept -- and only a concept -- five years from now, something will be deemed to have gone haywire.

3. Decide Whether To Concede The Market's Low End

At VMworld, the most persistent complaint I heard was how much of the IT budget VMware was beginning to command. Customers don't say they're dissatisfied with what they're getting. They say they feel a little bit like addicts, hooked on an expensive drug and wondering if they won't wake up one morning and decide they can't afford it anymore.

There has been tangible value in VMware software. But when it comes to a long-term strategy, I don't think VMware wants to give its customers a compelling reason to consider any of the three lower-priced spreads -- Microsoft, Citrix and Red Hat's KVM -- in the market. Many of VMware's customers already have a toe in the water with one or more of the alternatives. It's not uncommon to hear of VMware data centers with Citrix virtual desktop infrastructure. Or VMware data centers with departments basing local projects on Windows Server's Hyper-V and open source KVM.

VMware somewhat defensively says its total cost of ownership is less than Microsoft's. Last spring it produced a study to prove it. But I think the cost issue turns on what type of infrastructure you want. In some cases, Microsoft's approach will yield the lower cost; in others, VMware's. It seemed false to me to assume that everyone using Microsoft's System Center really wanted to use a VMware-style infrastructure.

That said, VMware conceives of the data center as 100% virtualized and managed from that standpoint. Hence, it comes up with an evolving line of products pushing data center operations in that direction. It wants the hardware to be invisible, or barely visible at the fringes. Microsoft, with its own large virtualization presence, is coming at the problem from the opposite direction: it sees the Windows Server hardware first and layers virtualization on top of it. There's a difference.

But is that difference so great that VMware can consistently charge a high premium? I miss VMware's old days, with Stanford professor and chief scientist Mendel Rosenblum and his wife, CEO Diane Greene calling the shots. At the time, VMware showed craftiness at both charging for its hypervisor and offering a low-end version for free, just as Xen appeared on the scene. Imagine that. VMware dominated the high end of the market, and refused to abandon the possibility of playing in the low-end segment as well.


re: 5 Things VMware Should Do In 2013

It will be interesting to see if VMware is able to move their software-defined data center concept forward with the Nicira acquisition. Our September 2012 Virtualization Management survey found that 61% of respondents buy into the concept of virtualization technology in a services-oriented IT model, where compute, storage, network and security are aggregated and automatically delivered as services, based on policies. However, of that, only 20% think their virtualization vendor can get them there, 19% think it will take more than one vendor and 22% feel it's too complex to undertake now. It looks like VMware has its work cut out for them.

Heather Vallis
Managing Editor, Research, InformationWeek

re: 5 Things VMware Should Do In 2013

"It's acquired end-user application vendors, such as SocialCast and SlideRocket, and it's built out a developer-attracting platform in Cloud Foundry, where developers may build their own applications."

Care to correct your grammar, ed?

That aside, a fascinating article that supports my view of VMWare as a vendor of very sophisticated technology, but still a tactical band-aid to a broader opportunity to discuss the virtues of owning vs. 'renting' one's computing infrastructure, i.e. the various flavors of cloud, when chances are IT as a whole probably isn't one of your core competencies, just something you inherited or grew into because the hosted and SaaS options weren't there.

A CXO may well realize that, and look for options beyond tweaking something complex that they own but never fully quite understood to accommodate workload and user growth that now must include spending 3-7% of your top line revenue on IT then the best use of finite capex/opex if the bulk of it just maintains status quo?

Karl Anttila
Chief Strategy Officer
Compelling Business IT

re: 5 Things VMware Should Do In 2013

Would you admit the possibility that an on-premises, highly-virtualized environment may one day work with a public cloud? It seems to me many enterprise IT orgs see that as a way to get beyond "just maintaining the status quo," with more and more on-premises operational responsibility taken over by data center software. Then IT would be more available to address the varied devices of end users or implement rapid changes to business systems -- that is, if all goes according to plan. Charlie Babcock, InformationWeek

re: 5 Things VMware Should Do In 2013

Yes, Charlie, I do admit to the likely possibility you pose with the caveat that IT be honest with itself with regards to that portion of your application layer that IS your core competence -- perhaps only somewhere between 15-25% of all your apps. So working with an MSP that hosts the layers of your infrastructure stack below the application layer might be a better use of finite resources than on-prem, no matter what you do to it. The holy grail is of course to future proof and right-size your computing environment, regardless of where it resides and who owns or maintains what.

I'm a business strategist, first and foremost, with an appetite for technology, but I see cloud operators having an upper hand in perfecting infrastructures that been largely commoditized with VMWare as a key component in many cases...what I'm suggesting is to take a hard, long look at what you have and how you spend your money...ask yourself if you really are world-class at it, and if not, find out someone who is.

After all, you don't do your own dry cleaning, do you? G?