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Cloud Platforms for Service Providers

Parallels VP Amir Sharif talks virtual infrastructures.

Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard recently spoke with Amir Sharif, vice president of virtualization products at Parallels Inc. Parallels made a name for itself with its virtualized Virtuozzo "containers" and its ability to run Windows and Linux side-by-side with Mac OS X on any Intel-powered Mac.

VR: What's the fastest-growing market segment you serve, and how are you taking advantage of that market segment?
Sharif: Virtual infrastructure is our fastest-growing segment. As you know, we have various lines of business, including automation and desktop virtualization, but when it comes to virtual infrastructure inside datacenters for service providers, that's where we're growing the fastest. We're putting in a framework for better integrating our products. We currently have three suites of products: billing, automation and virtualization. By integrating these three, we're delivering a cloud platform for service providers to take advantage of all three components, with which they're already familiar, but in a much more tightly integrated fashion.

VR: How would you describe the changing nature of the service provider market you serve?
Sharif: The biggest change in the service provider space we serve is the advent of cloud computing, and the market is being very quickly partitioned into three different segments. One is for high-end enterprise solutions that offer burstable clouds; another is an application development environment like the ones we see with Google Apps and Microsoft Windows Azure; and the third one is for small and midsize businesses [SMBs]. Our solutions and channel access are focusing on the small business segment. We believe this is a large market, and we have a unique and differentiated approach to it. Our channels are very amenable to having us reach the large number of customers who comprise small businesses in the United States and Europe.

VR: I'm hearing a lot of people talk about serving the SMB market as well. In this market, don't you have to do some handholding? Don't you have to sell the cloud as a concept to them?
Sharif: The cloud concept is already sold to small businesses. For instance, through our service providers, One on One or Go Daddy, we already sell virtual private servers -- that's already being done to small businesses, so the familiarity is there. We're talking about the next level of capability and value delivered to the end customers by enabling them to effectively create a virtualized datacenter in a cloud, or an environment in which they can develop and deploy applications that are delivered in a cloud, typically through a Web interface.

"Users should ask about the power and the feature sets they get, along with the ease-of-use features to make the cloud more accessible."

Amir Sharif, VP of Virtualization, Products, Parallels Inc.

VR: What questions should users ask potential cloud vendors before they commit to a product or service? Sharif: The questions are: 'How easy is it for me to use a system?' And, 'How much value does it deliver for me?' If you're a small business, the chances are that you can't afford high-end programmers that are typically hired by enterprises to interact with the cloud, so the cloud interface that you have to use at a small business must have the power of an enterprise cloud. We'll deliver that with our cloud solutions, but it also has to have a very simplified user interface so that the complexity can be hidden away. Users should ask about the power and the feature sets they get, along with the ease-of-use features to make the cloud more accessible.

VR: Describe the typical user who wants to run Windows on his Mac.
Sharif: The typical user is somebody who has used a Windows platform before and wants to migrate to a Mac platform for a number of reasons. Either they're hooked to a Mac platform because of their good experiences with the iPhone and iMac, or they just believe it's a superior platform -- but ultimately the migration happens and they still want to maintain the Windows environment. That comprises the bulk of the customers that we see.

There's a second large group of customers: people that grew up on Macs, but for a number of reasons need applications that aren't available natively on a Mac platform, and they need to use Windows, so they want to create a Windows environment within their Mac so that they can have access to additional applications.

VR: How customer-driven is Parallels? What are the most-common requests you get from your customers, and how does that input find its way into your product offerings?
Sharif: We're very customer-driven, first and foremost. On the desktop side, we actively interact with users through our user forums and through surveys -- we put out quite a few surveys. And each successive generation of the product we put out on the desktop side includes a lot of user wisdom. This is why we've been able to continuously enhance the desktop products and the performance you see. So we do listen very closely. On the server side, we're still very customer-driven, but our strategy of getting close to customers is different. We have an advisory board where we periodically meet with our most active customers and they give us direct feedback on how we can change our roadmap to meet their needs. In addition, our product team engages with our biggest customers very frequently on conference calls, and gets direct customer feedback from them on a one-on-one basis. So to come back to the point, we're very customer-driven and we pride ourselves on being close to the customers.

VR: What is your strategy for competing with VMware and Citrix in the desktop virtualization and VDI market?
Sharif: VMware and Citrix fundamentally serve different markets than we do. We focus on small businesses, whereas VMware and Citrix tend to work on larger opportunities such as enterprises and commercial companies. So there's no direct competition as far as we're concerned.

VR: Why did Parallels join the Linux Foundation?
Sharif: Parallels is one of the top 10 contributors to the Linux kernel, with the likes of IBM, Intel and Red Hat. Given these contributions, it's natural for us to be close to the Linux community in as many ways as possible, hence our joining the Linux Foundation.

VR: You recently announced Parallels Server for Mac Bare Metal Edition. How will this product help users?
Sharif: Parallels Server for Mac Bare Metal Edition helps users by allowing them to better utilize their powerful Xserve platform, by allowing them to operate multiple OSes like a Mac OS, Windows and Linux independently on the same hardware platform.

VR: What do virtualization users have to look forward to over the next two or three years?
Sharif: On the desktop side, you'll see a continued effort at increasing user performance and effectively obliterating any kind of performance loss that's associated with a virtualized environment. We've already demonstrated this with graphics, and will continue to demonstrate it, but the user experience will be effectively the same whether in a virtualized environment or non-virtualized environment on the desktop, and they can go back and forth seamlessly. On the server side, virtualization is going to become prevalent in all sections of the market. VMware brought virtualization into the mainstream, and [it's] focusing on the enterprise companies. Through the efforts of Parallels, small businesses will now have access to solid, world-class virtualization technology as well. So, on the server side, we're talking about a much more pervasive access to virtualization technology at excellent and reasonable prices.

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.

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