Cloud on the Fly – VMworld 2011

VMworld 2011 occurred a couple of weeks ago, but the energized crowd of 19,000-plus attendees and the raft of VMware and partner announcements that accompanied it make it worth revisiting. I’ll start by considering VMware’s central position in two of the IT industry’s most dynamic sectors: virtualization and cloud computing.

Virtualization and cloud have become nearly synonymous. In fact, a few wily vendors tend to use the terms interchangeably, but there are clear and important distinctions between them. Consider it this way: Cloud computing can’t exist without virtualization, but not all virtualized infrastructures are cloud computing environments.

Virtualization solutions like VMware’s are effective tools for consolidating IT assets and workloads, as well as achieving terrific data center efficiency/TCO improvements. The company’s highly integrated, automated and intelligent cloud solutions, on the other hand, provide a means for effectively transforming compute-driven business processes and modernizing the relationships between organizations/employees and IT.

The journey to the cloud that VMware has been leading since 2009 was, not surprisingly, a central theme at this year’s VMworld. From the looks of things, the company and its partners and customers are making solid progress toward that sometimes amorphous destination.

The Best of VMworld 2011

Following are a few highlights and salient points from VMworld 2011:

  • Moving Forward/Staying Ahead – VMware has been doing virtualization on x86 systems far longer and more successfully than any other vendor. Despite competition from numerous heavyweights (Microsoft Citrix, Red Hat, etc.), the company remains the vendor of choice among crucial large enterprise customers and a raft of service providers (more than 5,600 of which participate in VMware’s worldwide SP program). However, maintaining success requires the company to stay ahead of folks who are dedicating a great deal of financial and human capital to taking them down.

    To date, VMware has accomplished that by improving existing products; introducing new, impactful solutions; and funding research aimed at solving next-generation IT problems. Most all of the VMworld 2011 announcements fit this model, including the new VMware View 5, updates to VMware Horizon, and vCloud Connector 1.5. Virtually (no pun intended) all of these should help improve the company’s solutions’ performance and management capabilities, and thus support or extend VMware’s market leadership position.

    VMware also previewed two new end-user research projects code-named “AppBlast” and “Octopus.” The former will support the universal delivery of and instant access to any application on any device supporting HTML5 (without requiring access to operating environments, including Windows). The latter leverages data sync technology from VMware’s Zimbra and Mozy assets to deliver enterprise-grade collaboration and information/data sharing.

    Both are interesting — but AppBlast, in particular, could have a profound effect on driving next-generation cloud service delivery and place significant pressure on Microsoft as the company attempts to transition its applications to cloud-based solutions.

  • Virtualizing the Desktop – Virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs) and hosted desktops got a lot of attention at VMworld 2011, in part because of new products and customer wins by VMware partners like VCE (whose impressive FastPath VDI and enterprise Governance, Risk and Compliance (eGRC) solutions based on its vBlock architecture set the stage for a major new deal between the company and Banco Azteca).

    In short, it looks like VDI may be developing the market traction boosters have long predicted. VMware View-based solutions have been successfully deployed across thousands of desktops in numerous organizations, and there were rumors of at least one substantially larger customer deployment in the works. If this momentum increases, the future of hosted virtual desktops could be very rosy, indeed.

  • Small Businesses and the Cloud – How small businesses can gain cloud benefits is a contentious issue, mainly due to small organizations’ typical financial and technological constraints. VMware and others are targeting small businesses with value-centric standalone solutions, but most are also working with SPs that are developing or delivering cloud-hosted services for SMBs.

    One of the most intriguing related announcements along this line was actually made by Dell at Saleforce.com’s Dreamforce event. Hosted by Dell, the Cloud Business Applications service will deliver a suite of essential small business services, the first of which is a CRM offering from the company and Salesforce.com.

    Over time, the Cloud Business Applications service will include application integration (based on its Boomi technologies), real-time business analytics features, and integration with other Dell business and technical services. Overall, this seems an intriguing move by a company with its sights set firmly on improving the lives of small business customers.

  • Supporting Core Constituencies – Often lost in the noise around cloud is how these will affect core technology constituencies, particularly IT professionals and developers. In fact, controversies around the cloud’s impact on IT staffing seem to be picking up steam, with some claiming that the shift to “lights out” data centers will decimate IT jobs.

    There are certainly historical precedents for this. Automation tends to fundamentally alter most every industry it touches. Both VMware and EMC are actively setting the stage for next-generation jobs with their initiatives for “data scientists” (who will specialize in business analytics and intelligence processes). Over time, look for those programs to expand.

    VMware’s work in the developer community is also worth considering in this regard. The company’s 2009 acquisition of SpringSource left many scratching their heads, but VMware’s focus on supporting development of next-gen Web and enterprise apps soon became clear. By engaging with, making life easier for, and offering an expanding range of choices to young developers, VMware is cementing a position for itself at the leading edge of application evolution. The effort recalls IBM’s support of Linux in the 1990s, a decision that has paid dividends for years and hobbled attempts by proprietary OS vendors to dominate the data center.

  • License Pricing – VMware’s recent announcement of a new licensing model (based on virtual memory rather than traditional CPU- or core-based schemas) resulted in customer protests and an epic snark-fest by the company’s competitors. VMware quickly addressed client complaints by significantly expanding the volume of virtual memory allocated by every license. More to the point, CEO Paul Maritz directly addressed questions about the controversy from analysts and reporters at VMworld 2011.

    To his credit, Maritz didn’t retreat from his central belief that the continuing evolution of x86 hardware has rendered core/CPU licensing obsolete. While he admitted errors in how the company modeled the effects of the licenses on customers, he also stressed the need for a new approach that was fair to vendors and their clients alike.

Lousy Bet

That competitors would attempt to take advantage of VMware’s misstep is entirely predictable. Given the checkered past of licensing controversies ignited by Microsoft and others, however, their attempts to portray VMware as somehow out of touch with or ignorant of customers’ needs are richly ironic.

The size and enthusiasm of the VMworld 2011 crowd in Las Vegas also suggested that competitors betting that the controversy would cause VMware to falter or fall stood as much chance of success as a neophyte at a craps table.

Charles King

E-Commerce Times columnist Charles King is principal analyst for Pund-IT, an IT industry consultancy that emphasizes understanding technology and product evolution, and interpreting the effects these changes will have on business customers and the greater IT marketplace. Though Pund-IT provides consulting and other services to technology vendors, the opinions expressed in this commentary are King's alone.

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