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VMware Builds On Its Software-Defined Data Center Vision

As a storage analyst, I had big storage technology-related expectations for VMworld, which was held last month in San Francisco.  After last year's VMworld, when VMware unveiled EVO:RAIL and provided more VSAN detail, I was ready for pretty much anything.

In terms of VMware storage news, however, VMworld 2015 did not -- and really could not -- live up the previous year. In 2014, VMware laid out an aggressive strategy for VSAN, VVOLs, and EVO:RAIL; 2015 was less about strategy and more about execution. That said, VMworld continued its reign as a “must attend” storage event. Myriad storage vendors showed off new products, including NetApp’s all-flash FAS 8000, Tegile‘s IntelliFlash HD flash storage platform, and Pernix’s FVP 3.0 software. Storage startups also used the show to come out of stealth, such as Reduxio with its hybrid HX550 array that offers a “DVR-like” protection for data.

This year, VMware unveiled VSAN 6.1 with some critical feature additions, such as stretched cluster, which provides the ability to protect VMs stored on VSAN across geographically separate sites. VMware also announced a VSAN beta, adding a few new features including deduplication and erasure coding. Still, VMworld 2015 was more about the non-storage aspects of VMware's business, particularly NSX and vCloud Air, with the highlight being VMware’s demonstration of cross-cloud vMotion. My colleagues at ESG provided analysis of these other developments in a video and several blogs.

After taking a step back and reflecting on the sum of the past two VMworld events, however, it is obviously a mistake to look at the two conferences as separate entities, or to overly focus on one aspect such as storage or even cloud. In this case, the whole of VMware’s strategy is greater than the sum of its parts: They're all steps on a path in the same journey towards a modern and software-defined data center (SDDC).

The idea of abstracting the management and control of the data center infrastructure away from the actual underlying hardware and moving it more to the workloads and applications is obviously appealing. To some extent, VMware has already helped to make this happen. I have had more than one storage administrator confide in me that their organization has already shifted storage provisioning duties to the VM team, since the current set of vCenter plugins makes the storage so easy to manage. Delivering a full SDDC environment is in part simply the extension of this idea to the rest of the data center.

What I find more fascinating is that VMware is potentially the only vendor in IT with the reach to make the SDDC a reality for enterprises. Storage providers tend to want to make storage the center of the data center universe and server, networking, and even cloud providers have similar self-interested strategies. There are a number of open source solutions that could make the SDDC a reality in the future, but the realities of open source may not appeal to every enterprise. VMware is one of the few companies with software technology across the dimensions of hypervisor, storage, networking, and cloud that is designed to be, at least to some extent, hardware agnostic.

The net result is that VMware is building towards an ambitious goal: data center technologies where management and control are focused on the application while enabling the infrastructure hardware to evolve underneath without impacting the application. With technologies across the hypervisor, storage, networking, and the cloud, VMware may have all the pieces it needs for a full SDDC solution.Over time, I expect VMware will continue to integrate these components together towards its SDDC vision -- the potential of which already has me looking forward to VMworld 2016.