VMware will attempt to push the software-defined data center out of the realm of abstract conception and move it multiple steps closer to reality with two new products the company will announce at VMworld in San Francisco this week.
The first new product is the NSX platform for virtualized networking that moves network configuration and provisioning into a software-defined process that takes place as a virtual machine is configured. The second is Virtual SAN, which gives VMware's vSphere management system the ability to pool local attached storage on servers and treat them as a single, flexible resource. Under Virtual SAN, storage can scale out to meet the needs of each running application and track it around the data center as its virtual machine moves from one location to another.
In addition, Virtual SAN for the first time incorporates flash into the same storage pool as server disks and allows the virtualization administrator to make use of the characteristics of each type of storage in a way that works best for the virtual machine workload.
The use of solid state disks is still new in the field of virtualization but it is likely to have a big impact. Asked for his best measure of that impact, Scott Shadley, business development manager for Micron, said in a separate interview independent of VMware that the addition of a single PCI Express (PCIe) flash card to a server slot allowed the number of virtualized desktops handled to jump from 50 to 500. Solid state storage is particularly helpful where the infrastructure is trying to manage intense I/O, he said. Micron sells PCIe cards for $5,000.
[ Learn more about the challenge that confronts VMware at VMworld. Read 4 Things VMware Must Do At VMworld. ]
VMware's annual VMworld user conference is now 10 years old and marks "the third generation in IT, the mobile/cloud era," John Gilmartin, the company's VP of cloud infrastructure, said in an interview before the opening of the show. VMworld is expected to register between 21,000 and 22,000 attendees. The conclave occurs as Wall Street analysts and critics have placed an increasing burden on VMware management to explain how their company will fare in the face of commodity competition from Microsoft's Hyper-V, part of Windows Servers. VMware is also feeling increased heat from low-cost cloud computing services, such as Amazon Web Services. CEO Pat Gelsinger and COO Carl Eschenbach are expected to supply some answers as they give keynote speeches at the event on Monday and Tuesday.
A particular area of focus will be virtualized networking. VMware is no stranger to the subject, having invented a virtual switch and embedded it in its ESX Server hypervisor. It added the distributed virtualized switch in software, which was duplicated in hardware by HP, Cisco and other networking vendors, speeding up operations for large numbers of virtual machines.
When VMware bought Nicira in July 2012, it moved squarely into software-defined networking, a field that still threatens to overturn the fixed routes and inflexible configurations of spanning tree-based networks already in place. The spanning tree protocol mathematically calculates best routes based on network traffic, then locks them in place with switch and router configurations. Software-defined networking would allow routes to be set under one set of network circumstances, and then reset later when those conditions change.
Gilmartin said the new NSX network virtualization platform is the culmination of the company's experience in hypervisor virtual switching, distributed switching and Nicira's work, which came with a $1.26 billion price tag. NSX will be generally available in the fourth quarter. VMware is also capitalizing on the networking work done by the OpenStack project, for which Nicira engineers remain significant contributors. (OpenStack networking, previously known as Quantum, was renamed Neutron earlier this year.)
With NSX, the virtual network will be built and configured at the same time as the virtual machine. Until now, the network part of a virtual server had to follow up its creation, usually with manual intervention if any special characteristics were required.
"Manually intensive configuration slows down deployments. You can't realize the full effect of virtualization without the networking piece," said Gilmartin. At VMworld, 20 networking partners are expected to announce they have products that support NSX, he said.
In a similar vein, the addition of Virtual SAN to VMware's product line allows storage to be configured with the creation of the virtual machine, then reconfigured or moved around as necessary. Virtual SAN's ability to see all the hard drives on a virtualized server cluster along with all the SSD devices means virtual operations can use flash "for read/write operations, and hard drives for storage. It gives us the performance of flash, with the economics of hard drives," Gilmartin said.
Virtual SAN provides a means for policies to be set and govern the creation of storage allotments. Those policies are entered and applied through the vCenter management console. No date was announced when Virtual SAN will become generally available but a beta version will be available in the third quarter.