VMworld 2009 has come and gone-in a puff of cloud, you might say. It was a good show, still valuable, but not a great show like last year. (In fairness, it would be hard to top last year's watershed event, when VMware CEO Paul Maritz was just taking over for the deposed Diane Greene, and the world learned about vSphere.)
What did we learn this year? We learned that VMware wants to provide the plumbing for the cloud. It's a direction to which the company is fully committed. My question is, why?
Yes, the cloud is becoming more important every day. But I still don't see it becoming the dominant computing paradigm. Sure, there'll be uses for it-it's obviously part of the current industry. But I believe, ultimately, it will be more of a niche technology. In other words, it'll find its place and likely have modest and steady growth, but it's not going to be a game-changer the way virtualization, for instance, is.
I doubt that IT administrators will be willing to give up more than a tiny part of their infrastructures to a third party. Think about it: Would you want to give up your virtual machines (VMs) to someone you don't trust nearly as much as yourself? Would you be confident of that "other" environment's security or in the competence of its staff? I talked to many admins at the show and heard the same concerns. They told me, in no uncertain terms: "No way."
That doesn't mean that all hope is lost for VMware. There's a wonderful, immediately useful purpose for cloud computing: an internal cloud. Moving VMs from one company data center to another is a no-brainer under many circumstances. For starters, backup, disaster recovery, load balancing and server maintenance come to mind, and those functions are entirely under the control of IT staff. In fact, Maritz said as much when he emphasized that the company's No. 1 cloud priority is the internal cloud.
When it comes to external clouds, however (and internal clouds connecting with external clouds), I think the market is much less modest. For instance, VMware introduced "vCloud Express," essentially a way for small to midsize businesses to get a piece of the cloud for less. But why would most of those businesses need an external cloud? I can't see a great many scenarios under which it would make sense.
On the other hand, businesses without an IT department-start-ups, in other words-could gain an advantage from cloud infrastructure, if implemented from the beginning. Essentially, there would be no IT department because it would be outsourced from the start. Today this is easier to do than ever, especially with the critically important rise of desktop virtualization, which includes Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and bare-metal client hypervisors. In such cases, there are no admins to get in the way and no computing-infrastructure investment that would need to be scrapped.
VMware is making a "bet-the-company" push into the cloud. If the cloud doesn't impress the industry and uptake is slower than anticipated-or slower than the company anticipates-VMware could lose that bet.
Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.