VMworld 2013 Preview: Virtualization Eats the World

Expect 31 flavors of "software-defined" at VMworld as VMware updates its SDDC vision and promotes software abstractions and tools at every layer of the data center.

Kurt Marko

August 23, 2013

5 Min Read
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VMware has a lot riding on this year's VMworld conference as it strives to maintain mind and market share. Its hypervisor platform has reached the saturation point within the enterprise and is under attack from bundled alternatives like Hyper-V and KVM.

Its management suite is challenged by the increasingly capable OpenStack platform at a time when enterprises migrate more workloads to public clouds like AWS, Azure, Rackspace and other OpenStack providers. These clouds are built on a combination of proprietary and open source software, not just VMware's portfolio.

But VMware is also carving its way into new territory, especially the network, as virtual, software-controlled abstraction layers spread from servers to touch pretty much everything in the data center. As you prepare for the show, here are some themes to watch for.

SDN, VMware-style

VMware 2013 will be Nicira's coming-out party, with more details about what VMware has been doing with the network virtualization startup since the blockbuster acquisition was announced prior to last year's show.

Nicira's technology serves as the core for VMware's NSX product, which announced in March. The company will surely tout its network virtualization strategy at the Spotlight session by Nicira co-founder Martin Casado, "Network Virtualization: Moving Beyond the Obvious."

With a host of other sessions built around NSX and network virtualization, expect to see plenty of technical details about the internal workings of NSX, including how it overlays existing IP networks, along with information on higher-level virtualized network services like routing, security (firewall, VPNs, IDS/IPS), load balancing and application delivery.

[Discussions around software-defined networking can quickly get into the technology weeds, but don’t lose sight of why it matters. Greg Ferro breaks it down in “SDN Is Not a Technology, It’s a Use Case.”]

Several sessions devoted to OpenStack demonstrate that VMware realizes the imperative for cloud heterogeneity, and that its days as a sole provider of virtualization infrastructure are over. Indeed, we'll hear how NSX supports multiple hypervisors (vSphere, KVM and Xen) and cloud management platforms (vCloud, OpenStack and CloudStack) out of the box.

The Nicira DNA is evident. Its Quantum plugin with support for NSX APIs allows OpenStack users to programmatically provision and control L2 and L3 virtual networks, while exposing advanced NVP (Nicira Virtualization Platform) features like virtual port isolation, virtual port mirroring, QoS, security profiles and detailed per-port statistics.

But VMware will likely provide more detail about all areas of the Nicira SDN stack: the NSX controller, virtual switches, gateways (which bridge physical and virtual networks), and the management, control and data plane architecture.

Of keen interest to customers and equipment partners alike are any changes or extensions to the VXLAN protocol, one of the two IP encapsulation protocols NSX supports for tunneling virtual networks within physical ones. Customers will also be watching to see which switch vendors are out front with VTEP (VXLAN Tunnel End Points) VTEP (VXLAN Tunnel End Points) or, more precisely, hardware VTEP support.

SDDC: The Sequel

VMware unveiled its vision of a software-defined data center (SDDC) at last year's event, but the intervening year has yielded more questions than answers. SDDC will again be a hot topic, but don't look for any grand product announcements: SDDC is really a marketing message to describe a VMware-centric data center transformation to an environment of software-controlled and virtualized compute, network, security, storage and HA services.

VMware is making the vCloud suite the management and automation foundation for its SDDC architecture, so expect plenty of technical sessions and use cases to sell you on its benefits over other cloud management platforms.

Look for VMware to position its various infrastructure and management products under the SDDC umbrella. For compute, this means we'll hear more about vSphere 5.5 and improvements made to boost scalability and performance--particularly networking and latency--to handle more, and a wider variety, of workloads. VMware wants to expand the pool of applications for its virtualization platform, including big data and transactional- and memory-intensive workloads.

VMware will also capitalize on the big data buzz with several talks on virtualizing Hadoop using its big data extensions. Of particular interest to me is the session on "Beyond Mission Critical: Virtualizing Big-Data, Hadoop, HPC, Cloud-scale Apps," where VMware will share the stage with a chief engineer from FedEx to discuss strategies for building virtualized Hadoop clusters.

Let's hope they come prepared with actual data showing what, if any performance degradation comes from running virtualized compute servers sharing a separate HDFS data layer.

Next page: Don't Forget StorageThe other major piece of the SDDC architecture is storage, and after the Virsto acquisition, VMware will have a good story to tell and a lot to say.

As with SDN, software-defined storage (SDS) separates a virtual data plane--with abstracted pools of storage glued together from multiple, heterogeneous platforms--from a control plane used for management and policy enforcement. This isn't exactly new, but expect more details on how VMware supports virtual SANs and better utilizes server-side flash caches, with several sessions devoted to each.

VMware Virtual SAN, announced last year as part of vSphere Distributed Storage, has been in private beta, but the "VMware Virtual SAN Panel Discussion" should be an interesting discussion among several participants on their experiences and use cases.

Other talks will cover VSAN best practices, a Virsto technical overview, outlining its technique of moving an SDS subsystem into the hypervisor to improve block storage performance and efficiency. There will also be several sessions on vSphere Flash Read Cache, a hypervisor-based virtual storage tier that pools server-side flash capacity from multiple hosts into a read and write-through cache available to any VM.

Lest we forget, last spring VMware also introduced its own hybrid cloud service, seeking to ease the path of public cloud migration for existing vSphere workloads.

That announcement, made to a room full of Wall Street analysts, was about marketing and competitive positioning. VMworld should provide the venue for filling in the technical details and showcasing early adopters. Potential hybrid customers may be interested in the session on "How To Build Your Hybrid Cloud and Consume the Public Cloud."

VMworld 2013 promises to be a busy and information-packed event. Follow our complete coverage and look for my analysis of key themes, important technologies, and interesting products and vendors all next week.

In the meantime, what are you hoping to see come out of VMworld this year? And are you ready to embrace the notion of a fully abstracted data center?

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