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What's Next From VMware: CTO Steve Herrod

VMware CTO goes one-on-one with InformationWeek's Charles Babcock at Interop 2012 to discuss the software-defined data center, the Citrix desktop rivalry, recent security concerns, and more.

The Best of Interop 2012
The Best of Interop 2012
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Virtualization has emerged as a new and critical point of control over the data center. The more of the data center that gets virtualized, including networking and storage, the more critical the virtualization management console becomes.

No company has shown as much assertiveness in building out this point of control as VMware. It's not only the dominant supplier of enterprise software for virtualization, it's also the chief theoretician of where these changes will lead to. And increasingly, the strongest voice in explaining these initiatives to customers is Steve Herrod, the company's CTO and ambassador of sweeping change.

First of all, he said in an interview during the Interop show in Las Vegas, VMware is an enterprise technology company producing software to run in a company's data center, not a consumer or Web services company. In other words, VMware's mission may be disruptive, but it will perform it so it will fit into the corporate way of embracing technology.

[ Want to learn more about how VMware is moving into systems management? See VMware Vs. The Old School: Data Center Management Battle. ]

"Our job is to simplify the life of IT. There're a lot of changes hitting at the same time. IT is changing how it runs the data center and how it writes applications. We're trying to make it so that they can write an application in a new way and deliver it to all employees, wherever they are," Herrod said.

That means VMware now has to mesh its virtualization products with a lot of goals in addition to server consolidation. If someone only familiar with the VMware of five or six years ago were to have an animated encounter with Herrod, he might be surprised to find all the directions in which VMware is now moving.

For example, last year, VMware established a developer site, Cloud Foundry, where different languages gain supporting services--platform as a service--for building applications that are ready to run inside virtual machines and in a private cloud setting. VMware does so from a strong position as owner of the Spring Framework, the lightweight Java application building system that developers have flocked to. Cloud Foundry has attracted platforms to support other languages, such as PHP and Microsoft .Net, as well. To hold developer loyalties, VMware has made the platform open source code and available in a client version download.

Less well known but of increasing importance is VMware's initiative in virtualized networking. Secure services in the cloud in many cases have been provided over VLANs, but such an approach ties up a disproportionate amount of network resources for the work that can be accomplished over one VLAN. To make the enterprise private cloud more effective, VMware's vSphere and vCloud Director products now support VXLANS, or "logical Ethernet networks spanning the data center. Each application owner can take advantage of it," said Herrod.

VXLANs are a form of software-defined networking, but they don't require the network to be uprooted and reequipped with new switches and routers. They can be overlaid atop existing networks and a variety of networking vendors are supporting the concept, he added.

Software-defined networking, where a network administrator can configure and re-configure networks through commands to software applications controlling switches and routers, is the prototype for what Herrod referred to in an Interop keynote as the "software-defined data center."

If the three major resources of the data center can all be virtualized--computing, storage, and networking--then IT will be able to implement software-based management that automates many procedures and operations. And, coincidentally, the control of the data center through a virtualization management interface will be broadened.

Asked how close we are to a software-defined data center today, Herrod said VMware customers will talk about the steps they've taken to achieve one at VMworld in San Francisco at the end of August. But, he conceded, there's still a long ways to go for most companies.

The software-defined data center will need to collect "massive amounts of data from running systems," including data on the underlying hardware, monitor it, and analyze it for deviations from historical patterns, he said. And when deviations indicate system performance problems, the software-defined data center will have to be able to "dive down deep into the data to analyze the cause," he noted.

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