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.

Charles Babcock

May 10, 2012

8 Min Read
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The Best of Interop 2012

The Best of Interop 2012

The Best of Interop 2012 (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

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.

Interop 2012 Product Preview

Interop 2012 Product Preview

Interop 2012 Product Preview (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

And before a company can do that, it needs to get as close as possible to 100% virtualized across compute, storage, and networking. While a few companies are 100% virtualized, Herrod acknowledged that most are struggling to get their big mission-critical systems--such as Oracle databases and SAP ERP applications--virtualized. That move would carry many of them up into the 70% range. To get to the software-defined data center will require additional effort to migrate or isolate legacy systems that remain un-virtualized.

VMware is positioned well to advocate the software-defined data center. The company is pushing its 14-month-old vCenter Operations product as the configuration, performance, and capacity management piece of the virtualized data center. That means it must collect data from underlying hardware devices, not just virtual machines. And the physical infrastructure has been the traditional domain of systems management vendors like HP, IBM, BMC, and CA Technologies.

As more of the data center becomes virtualized, VMware seeks to manage both types of resources--hardware and software--and use data from systems management products to get the information it needs. Conventional systems management "assumes that one application is assigned to one server location and remains that way forever. VMware's vMotion [or live migration of running virtual machines] will have different applications popping up on different servers," said Herrod. It requires a new form of systems management, which VMware will provide in vCenter Operations.

In the end, the software-defined data center will be collecting massive amounts of data on running systems. "It will be a big data challenge to view operations, take a look at trends, and extract how things are working," Herrod said. VMware's approach to virtualization management "will be a bigger and bigger part of how the data center of the future is managed." Even though VMware sees itself as the right party to do the final analysis, Herrod said, "It won't be just one tool. We'll have to plug into existing systems management products."

Herrod also acknowledged that VMware was lagging behind Citrix Systems when it came to the display of virtual desktops to end users. Citrix had market leadership and more experience than any other vendor in virtualizing end user applications and implementing desktop display protocols, he said. "We absolutely were catching up. There were two big areas in which we were challenged: remote desktop display and an ability to display on multiple clients. With the release of VMware View 5.1 and VMware's implementation of the end user, display-oriented PCoIP protocol, "many analysts said we have closed the gap." View 5.1 included a multiple device client, View Client, that allowed a virtualized end user workspace to be shown on different devices, a match finally for Citrix' Receiver.

In addition, Herrod said, VMware is innovating by adding the Horizon application manager product, "the future switchboard operator" or broker between end user applications and data sources. Through Horizon, a wide variety of end users can be connected to the applications they need.

Another new product still in beta is Project Octopus, which will be a secure, enterprise version of DropBox, the popular, online file sharing site. VMware will provide identity management and privilege assignment through Octopus (to be renamed as a product), which will give employees of a company a means of securely sharing data and files.

On the topic of security, Herrod said VMware customers should not be alarmed by the exposure of a file of 2003-2004 ESX Server source code by a hacker named Hardcore Charlie. Even if more code is exposed at some point, Herrod said, VMware's security team is constantly testing the code for any possible hacker openings and providing protective measures to keep intruders out. Herrod conceded that interest in ESX Server source code is probably strong in the hacker community, given the value of the systems running on it. But exposed code is not the same thing as insecure code and VMware intends to maintain a high bar when it comes to security, he said.

Herrod is the former director of software at Transmeta. He joined VMware in 2001 and emphasized that VMware is a technology company for the enterprise.

"For the whole life of a company, employees have wanted to do something and IT has said, 'no.' The core of what VMware is doing is to make IT a friend of the business' needs again. It's making IT the party that says, 'yes.'"

Find out how to move beyond server virtualization to build a more flexible, efficient data center in the new Private Cloud Blueprint issue of Network Computing. (Free registration required.)

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