How Will the Economy Impact Virtualization?

Yes the markets a mess and we seem to be going down a giant rabbit hole of indeterminate proportions. The cascading volatility of global economic markets aided and abetted by real-time communications has been a speculative issue explored by economists for years along with the productivity puzzle that Alan Greenspan used to be preoccupied with from time to time.

I would suggest however that the issue is no longer speculative: it seems clear that the global financial underpinnings that were hammered out in Bretton Woods in 1945 to create the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund can’t keep up with the runaway freight train that is IT-fostered globalization. Somehow a new structure will have to be put in place so the next few months are going to be fascinating to watch.

Those of us who work in IT of course are busily trying to figure out the impact of all this on the virtualization market. But let’s start with IT in general. As Herb Torrens recently reported, a survey released from Forrester Research says 43 percent of companies reduced budgets this year. As Torrens reports “Financial services in North America were the hardest hit, with 49 percent reporting IT cutbacks.” This certainly brings up some questions about hosted desktop virtualization which many think will be the next big wave of market growth since it depends heavily on this sector as well as health care (i.e. highly regulated industries).

Another interesting data point from the Forrester report is that “about 43 percent of firms interviewed said they are increasing their efforts in infrastructure outsourcing, and 45 percent will use more application outsourcing.“ The extent to which this same impulse will give the cloud computing juggernaut even more momentum (is that possible?) is worth considering. My sense is that it will.

Finally, VMware is spending over 20 percent on R&D which is a very healthy number. The company also has some very ambitious plans to develop what appears to be the first release of the putative next generation data center with VDC-OS. It's going to be interesting to watch this develop but let’s hope that the dismal climate doesn’t affect the more promising aspects of the forward march of technology progress on virtualization.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 10/19/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Gartner: Virtualization in 2009 Is Top Strategic Technology

A recent report in Computerworld says that “Gartner Inc. has ranked virtualization as the No. 1 strategic technology for next year, not for its ‘tremendously obvious’ ability to virtualize servers, but for its increasing capability to virtualize just about everything else in a data center.” (In last year's report, virtualization was ranked No. 5.) Gartner says the disruptive potential of the technologies considered was a major factor in the selection criteria used.

Others making the list include cloud computing at No. 2 which didn’t appear at all on last year's version (interesting) and computing fabrics in the third spot. Finally to round out the list in order, there’s web-oriented architecture (no brainer), enterprise mashups (another no brainer), specialized systems (huh?), social software and social networking, unified communications (uh-oh there it is again..see my colleague Lee Pender’s excellent blog on this topic), and business intelligence which is a new entry. Rounding out the list at No. 10 is Green IT. (Green IT last? In this new environment? Sorry, Gartner, don’t think so.)

Posted by Tom Valovic on 10/15/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Two IT Trends on a Collision Course?

Don't look now but two of the most powerful trends in IT might be on a collision course: hosted desktop virtualization (a.k.a. VDI) and Web 2.0, both of which have growing importance for enterprise desktops. But let's backtrack a bit. I've been noodling about these issues for some time now, but they sort of crystallized in my mind after a discussion with David Lavenda, VP of marketing with a New York-based company that specializes in enterprise Web 2.0 called WorkLight.

I wanted to speak with David after seeing a statement from WorkLight that flagged my attention. It discussed a survey conducted by another firm (Awareness, Inc) which "claims to show a near-doubling in the numbers of firms happy for their staff to use social media applications during business hours is a sure sign that companies are embracing Web 2.0 services at long last." During the conversation, David made the observation that one of the things driving Web 2.0 acceptance among IT managers is a simple reality: Gen Y workers entering the workforce are judging these companies by how well they've responded to business potential of these capabilites. (Not the first time I've heard this and you may have heard similar reports.)

When I pressed him, however, he acknowledged that some user-defined Web 2.0 activity could be contributing to the burdensome $4,000-$6,000 per desktop per year that it's costing IT shops to manage desktop PCs. That's why I'm suggesting that the strong momentum towards Web 2.0 applications for business use and movement towards locking down enterprise computing using VDI might be countervailing trends. I'll be digging deeper into this one and will, of course, keep you posted.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Post here or send an e-mail to [email protected]

Posted by Tom Valovic on 10/14/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

What's Oracle Doing in Virtualization?

Whatever else happens next year, it's going to be interesting to see what the other large IT suppliers besides Microsoft do in virtualization. Oracle is a case in point. The company got into the market last November with Xen-based Oracle VM, a product targeting the company's enterprise Linux base (not the broader market, it's worth noting). It has no licensing cost and some nifty features including free live migration. (The primary cost is for support.) In terms of management, the company offers Enterprise Manager, which, like Microsoft's VMM 2008, can manage both virtual and physical machines.

Oracle VM targets the company's enterprise Linux base of products such as Oracle Database, Oracle Application Server, and Oracle PeopleSoft. A few months ago, the company released what it's calling "VM templates" -- basically pre-installed and configured images of enterprise software including Oracle Database 11g and Siebel CRM 8 intended to reduce installation and maintenance costs since customers can simply copy the template to the server being virtualized.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 10/13/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

How VMware Is Tackling the Storage Challenge

I’m still sifting through all of the announcements from VMworld, like a medieval scholar poring over manuscripts back in the day (less dust though…not good for the laptop). And, of course, I keep coming back to the complexities of VDC-OS. If you have a mind given to the nuances of complexity (and my wife assures me, for better or worse, that this is indeed the case) then there’s plenty there to keep you occupied. Like vStorage, for example.

One of the things that virtualization is intended to address in the larger scheme of things is the relative intractability of hardware as opposed to the malleability and flexibility that software approaches make possible. One of the areas where this comes into sharp contrast is making server, storage, and network resources act in concert -- the primary focus of the VDC-OS infoganza at VMworld. While virtualization is largely software-driven, storage and network resources tend to be more hardware-centric. It’s significant for example that Cisco’s Nexus 1000V was described by the company – widely known as a “box builder” – as its first software switch.

As for storage, the issues here have similarities to the network challenge. As one vendor recently pointed out, storage is a world of LUNs and disk arrays whereas virtualization is a world of .VMDK files. VMware’s vStorage initiative will involve exposing VMware APIs to storage management systems to give them visibility into operational changes in the virtualization environment. The company will make these available to all of their current storage partners and says the APIs will enable “array-based capabilities, such as snapshots, provisioning, replication and restore, directly with individual virtual machines.” Thin provisioning is also an important aspect of this new direction, a capability that keeps VMs from taking up more storage capacity than they actually need by preventing over-allocation.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 10/08/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Cloud Computing Needs Better Definition

Cloud computing didn't come up in the vice presidential debate recently but if it did I guarantee you it would have been every bit as vaguely referred to as some of the other items that that were addressed. But while we expect vagueness from candidates (sad to say), technology markets need a little more precision to function optimally.

Cloud computing is so hot right now that even VMware had to jump on the bandwagon. But its not so much the hype that’s the problem as the fact that vendors are pushing the definitional envelope and now the term itself has become almost absurdly elastic. As Herb Torrens writes in a news story on our site and Doug Barney blogged about, Larry Ellison and has been quoted as saying "I can't think of anything that isn't cloud computing…it's complete gibberish.…When is the idiocy going to stop?" Three words: thank you Larry.

In the Torrens article, Matt Rosoff, an analyst from Directions on Microsoft, is quoted as saying "I don't believe we are moving to a world of thin-client terminals accessing everything on the Internet. We'll see more of a blend of local and online storage and thick-client and server-based apps, but it's not going to be a complete replacement." This is certainly true and seems fairly obvious for the short term given the huge base of fat clients out there. (iPhone for one, as it becomes more and more biz-friendly, will see to that.) This view of the market and technology curve is also nicely reflective of VMware’s vClient approach which centers on the idea of universal clients rather than everything moving en masse to thin or zero clients.  

If you’ve got any thoughts about cloud computing madness, fire off an email to [email protected]

Posted by Tom Valovic on 10/05/2008 at 12:49 PM1 comments

Welcome to the “Lego-Set” Data Center

One of the goal’s of VMware’s VDC-OS is over time to move the data center towards a new level of flexibility and scalability. According to Bogomil Balkansky, Senior Director of Marketing, the notion is akin to “building a giant computer from piece parts.” Balkansky says that the goal is eventually to emulate Google, which is of course is well known for building its data center out of industry standard x86 “building blocks.” This “lego-set” approach has its advantages but it’s worth pointing out that it stands in sharp contrast to the notion of a ”data center in a box” associated with efforts like Sun’s Project Black Box, a prototype, according to Sun, of the world's first virtualized datacenter.

The VMware argument certainly makes sense in terms of capacity since you can add it very efficiently to such an environment by either adding more physical and then virtual servers or taking servers off line if the capacity isn’t needed. This notion of compute resource pooling isn’t new and has been a longstanding part of VMware’s basic value prop.

Once vCloud gets added into the picture (recently announced at VMworld), an IT department gets another range of options and can offload VMs to a VMware-compatible cloud computing provider, another way of dynamically expanding or contracting the capacity of compute resources. So far so good, but the critical success factor in my mind is what happens to this model when the more complex areas of storage and networking infrastructure get brought into the picture under the VDC-OS architecture. Here the company is planning to create storage and network “resource pools”, similar to what it’s already done with compute. If successfully executed, it will definitely be a game-changer.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 10/02/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Is VMware’s vClient a New Idea?

As a student of Tai Chi and the martial arts, I’ve noted that while some battles are worth fighting and others are not, others are just confusing. There’s been a battle going on for many years between IT and telecom vendors and suppliers over something called convergence. There have been many concrete examples of IT suppliers stealing thunder from the telecom guys and some of the other way around. For the latter, take a look at AT&T’s recent announcement about cloud computing.

It’s a very interesting, complex, and occasionally byzantine market dynamic. Generally speaking, IT players tend to win these battles. Why? Because the movement and direction of technology vectors favors them. An obvious example is when Microsoft basically froze the IP PBX market with its well-orchestrated unified communications barrage a few years ago. More recently, we have iPhone. Oh and let’s not forget Google phone, which Editor-in-chief Doug Barney wrote about recently.

With those little tidbits as background, it may come as a surprise that VMware’s new strategy about having your desktop follow your device is really nothing new – at least in telecom circles. While the telecom guys do indeed lose many of the market battles, we’ll have to give them a lot of style points for at least framing the market opportunity and technology direction.

If you’re interested, this was done under the banner of a 5 year old architectural framework called IMS or IP Multimedia Subsystems. The basic goal is simple and resonates very well with VMware’s approach: any device should be able to connect to any content on any network at any time. And the 3GPP framers of IMS weren’t only thinking phones. IMS – which also is a long way from full realization – was intended to apply to compute resources like PCs as well as phones.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 09/30/2008 at 12:49 PM3 comments

VMware: Drilling Down on vNetwork

You may have noticed I’ve been talking a lot about Cisco lately. A recent article in PC World talks about “Cisco fatigue”. I’m not sure what that is exactly but whatever it is, VMware doesn’t have it. The collaboration between Cisco and VMware is an especially interesting one because the two companies have a lot in common. The intellectual roots of both trace back to Stanford University and both are neighbors (Cisco in San Jose, VMware in Palo Alto).

This dynamic duo also has enormous amounts of technical talent to bring to bear on the complex problem of taking this elusive concept of the next-gen data center or NGDC a few steps closer to reality. (Is the end goal easier or harder than building and successfully running experiments on a supercollider? Probably the latter, but there’s less concern about the pesky problem of destroying the known universe by accident.)

It’s pretty clear that networking capabilities will be fundamental to the NGDC. As Cisco’s Ed Bugnion pointed out in his keynote at VMworld, there will have to be transparency between disparate resource pools and to do this the network will have to be as smart as the VM infrastructure itself.

The two most horizontally structured elements within the data center are networks and management systems. But in today’s highly heterogenous data center environments, both are still heavily siloed. Cisco likes to talk about a developing a “unified fabric” to address the network piece. And management is siloed by physical and virtual; by storage, server, and networking; by applications; by vendor solution; and other slices and dices. Given this fragmentation, the network will clearly have an interesting role to play as a “common denominator element”, consistent with Cisco’s SONA concept. While Sun used to trumpet that “The network is the computer”, Cisco’s latter-day refinement is “the network is the platform”.

Bottom line: VMware’s collaboration with Cisco is an important element in its overall strategy and in my opinion will serve both companies well going forward. Competitors such as Microsoft/Citrix and others appear to have nothing comparable in depth and scale in the works other than application delivery point solutions.

Agree or disagree? Let me know if you think I’ve had too many gulps of Cisco kool-aid at [email protected]

Posted by Tom Valovic on 09/28/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Citrix Working on iPhone Compatibility

I have a keen interest in what’s happening with desktop virtualization and mobile clients. In this context, I recently talked with Citrix product manager Al Grandville. Turns out Citrix is working with Apple on using iPhone for both XenDesktop and XenApp applications as he discusses in a blog post.

Like VMware’s vClient initiative and its universal client concept, Citrix wants to bring its core hosted product offerings to as many different types of devices as possible. Grandville says the company has mobile clients available today for both Windows Mobile and Symbian devices but the performance is not where they’d like it to be. But he points out that both iPhones and the increasing availability of 3G are game changers. The difference is in the all–important aspects of both screen size and user interface (which of course Apple has excelled at) as well as the improved response time and bandwidth capacity of 3G wireless coverage, now accessible with the latest version of iPhone.

While no product has yet been announced, Citrix software developers in the UK have recently ported the XenApp source code to the iPhone platform. A Citrix community blog launched an informal (and not terrribly scientific) survey asking “Do you need a Citrix client for the iPhone?” 58% responded to the choice (one of three) “I need it for my company users (and myself).”

Posted by Tom Valovic on 09/25/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

VMworld: Last Impressions

Now that the dust has settled, I've had a chance to think a bit more about the show and VMware's new strategy initiatives. Overall, I think the company did something it had to do especially with the industry waiting to get "the word" from newly installed CEO Paul Maritz. Although Maritz, like Greene, has a somewhat laid back style, he did come out swinging in putting forth a few interesting new directions with the tripartite VDC-OS initiatives.

In fairness, Maritz didn't have a ton of time to steer the 6,300-employee company on a major mid-course correction although as Keith pointed out in one of his blogs, he possibly could have done more to calm the investor waters by hitting a few notes about the company's intention and preparedness to meet the competition in all quarters. For example, as intriguing as the vClient initiative is, I would have liked to hear Maritz talk a bit more about the market opportunity from VMware's perspective, customer pain points, and underscore that the company intends to be the king of the hill in this next wave of market development. Clearly, the company's orientation is still technology more than markets and sooner or later, this mix will need to be adjusted like a good fuel-to-oxygen ratio.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 09/23/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Why VMware's vCloud Approach Is Ahead of the Curve

VMware cloud computing rumors have been in play for a while now given the company's major data center construction efforts in Washington State. (In a few years, will license plates there have a tagline that reads "The Data Center State"?) At VMworld I had a chance to speak with Wendy Perilli, Director of Product Management for Emerging Business, about this. I asked her outright if the company had any plans to go down the path of providing services out of that facility. The outright answer was no. Fair enough, I would have been surprised to hear otherwise since doing so would be a radical change in business model best left for another time in the company's development.

Wendy also provided some interesting color on the vCloud initiative that Paul Maritz spoke about extensively in his keynote. VMware's strategy is basically an integrated, two-pronged approach. With VDC-OS, they will work towards the somewhat elusive but worthy goal of building the next generation data center or NGDC as I like to call it. This will be a fully virtualized entity including transparency between compute, networking, and storage resource pools as editor Keith Ward explained in his blog.

But it doesn't stop there. VMware already has a large number of customers that currently have some sort of cloud-based offering. SunGard, BT, and Savvis are top of mind examples. The plan is that VMware will work with these "partners" (the company's terminology) to do joint marketing and customer education.

Which customers you ask? Simple: any customer or potential customer that might want to buy a VMware solution set for their own enterprise (or "Internal Cloud," again using VMware’s terminology) and at the same time might also sign on to one of these VMware partners for external cloud services.

Here's the payoff: in this scenario, the value add that a customer would get is an internal cloud that's integrated and interoperable to varying degrees with the external cloud provider of choice. Sounds like a great strategy to me (courtesy no doubt of Paul Maritz who, keep in mind, was formerly President of EMC's Cloud Infrastructure and Services Division) and a strong differentiator from competitors.

I'd love to know what you think of the company's new strategy. Post here or send me an e-mail at [email protected].

Posted by Tom Valovic on 09/22/2008 at 12:49 PM0 comments