As VMworld Looms, VMware Faces a Fight on Many Fronts
It might look like VMware is approaching solution sprawl, but there's some precision and orchestration among its breadth of offerings. Before you head to San Francisco and VMworld 2014, here's a look at the current state of datacenter solutions as VMware sees it.
- By Eric Beehler
The future of VMWare Inc., once the disruptive darling of the datacenter, now sits at a crossroads it helped build. Hypervisor x86 virtualization has been the bread and butter of this business, and companies have gladly paid to reap the benefits of consolidation and premium performance in class, but now cloud and "Everything as a Service" are threatening that status.
It's been known for half a decade that VMWare would need to transform to fight the good fight on the cloud front, but will it be able to keep up with so many competitors? Hypervisors, DevOps, orchestration, software-defined network (SDN), storage, bring your own device (BYOD), datacenter automation, cloud, Big Data analytics, Platform as a Service (PaaS), as well as desktop and application streaming are all areas that see VMWare as a leader fending off competitors, or VMware playing a reactive role to new technology.
Before you head to VMworld 2014, it's high time you get a good look at the wide set of solutions that the company offers and where those solutions are headed.
It Starts with vSphere
Clearly, the focus of vSphere is moving toward the software-defined datacenter (SDDC). The slow goodbye to older technologies such as classic ESX and the fat vSphere Client will be solidified in the next release. Look to the desktop interface to disappear and the full feature set being supported by the Web client.
vSphere will become less a story of the ESXi hypervisor layered with vCenter management. Instead, VMWare will push harder to bring its customers into the full suites of products. Expect the biggest future features to be in the area of automation and orchestration, feeding the big SDDC picture.
SDN and Storage
In order to get control of the datacenter, vSphere must control it all. It must control the network and the storage. The SDN saw the VMware/Nicira vision introduced as VMware NSX. The enemy of this concept is Cisco Systems Inc. and its hardware-dependent vision of SDN. VMware will introduce plenty of ways for classic networking companies to interact with NSX, but in the end the control plane will exist in NSX and not the other way around.
In two years, you'll see VMware talk less about interoperability and more about why letting network devices control the network is a bad idea. Today's NSX wants to work with the hardware, but doesn't understand it very well. Expect features that provide end-to-end insight, as well as additional ways to make the networking hardware less relevant, with some of this done through the increasing capabilities of API solutions.
Storage virtualization is at version 1.0 with VMware Virtual SAN (vSAN), but the concept of software being able to abstract what has typically been complex hardware isn't brand new. The "who cares about the hardware?" strategy may rub your SAN vendor the wrong way, but this is the granddaddy strategy that will move all other solutions that the company offers. Without local control over storage, the cloud and scale-out story becomes limited.
Instead, with the storage industry in a shoot-out to decide whether the EMCs of the world or the new flash-based up-and-comers will control the next phase, you see VMware keep the eggs and the basket all for itself. A shared-nothing storage system might seem like a rough pill to swallow as far as availability and flexibility, but VMware will be iterating quickly and pushing the story for adoption. Don't be surprised when vSAN is a requirement for the cloud and for orchestration products that drive SDDC.
The vSAN story will see some definite movement. The company emphasizes ease of deployment and vSAN needs to reduce complexity and it appears one way VMware plans to do this is with an SDDC in a box. It appears to be a move into either hardware, or at least reference hardware, and it's that one-rack solution that may be just what some verticals and smaller IT shops need to get going quickly with SDDC. This hyperconverged approach might be what some shops -- those that find serious controls and limitation in technology when it comes to existing storage and networking, anyway -- need. vSAN still needs some polish and will have to round out some features quickly to really compete here, though. Features such as deduplication, DRS support, as well as specific requirements of SSDs to spinning platters and current issues with specific hardware needs are all areas vSAN will grow into over the next two years.
Oh, and what about the Virtual Volumes we were promised and the Virsto acquisition that was dropped as a SKU at the beginning of 2014? You can almost bet that will get wrapped into vSAN. For now, an all-in-one hardware solution (code-named "MARVIN"; see "Is Project Mystic
VMware's Hyperconverged Infrastructure Solution?") might be the best way to show off the technology. It's possibly a competitor to Cisco UCS, but a kinder, more open converged stack, or maybe a competitor to the Nutanixes of the world. We'll see.
vCenter Operations Management Suite (vCOps) and vSphere with Operations Management (vSOM) are two versions of pretty much the same thing. vSOM adds vCOps to the mix in an array of SKUs. The question many used to ask themselves was whether they wanted the added expense to track and manage their virtual environments. Now, everyone knows the necessity, as virtualization becomes more than just consolidation. Third parties have classically been very successful adding a monitoring and management layer on top of vSphere, with newcomers such as CloudPhysics and SumoLogic, still building new companies that continue to slice and dice datacenter data. VMware is aware of the need to get deeper analytics, so expect Log Insight, as part of vCOps suite, to keep Big Data views of your vCenters in-house.
Also, expect the Big Data tech from Log Insight to begin playing a bigger part in the overall delivery of vCOps, with machine learning allowing better predictive analysis, security monitoring, and for that to span across the datacenter outside of vCenter. With vFabric -- for now named vCenter Hyperic -- directly monitoring applications, services, and processes via run books with the various tiers of applications servers, VMware monitoring capabilities continue to push into areas where other monitoring stacks from Microsoft System Center or HP OpenView have been strong. Connecting this capability in the future to the provisioning automation and other automation hooks with vCenter and vCloud mean you'll be able to scale out on demand without even thinking about it. Monitoring won't just be notification -- it will be followed by machine-learned, automated action.
Into the Cloud...
vCloud has a long road to success. Even though enterprises are finally coming around to it, many still feel trepidation in handing over major applications to the cloud, and specifically a single cloud vendor. Because this is VMware's story -- to be the single, integrated cloud infrastructure for business -- vCloud has to continue to iterate to stay above competitors.
At the end of the day, all vCloud efforts in vSphere and vCAC will focus on application provisioning, workload orchestration and financial management.
SDDC in many ways is DevOps with VMware SDDC infrastructure. Everything is programmable: NSX, vSAN, vSphere compute VMs, log analysis and the hybrid cloud. This is where vCenter Orchestrator will become a key driver. Moving enterprises from strict ITIL silos to constantly changing environments means taking what we've learned from companies that built their solutions on Amazon EC2 via constant code changes and DevOps tools like Puppet. Taking enterprise requirements for security, change management, and management from project and business levels will be where VMware can build a tool that will shine. Today the tool focuses on enforcing right-sizing resources and setting the right service levels.
Windows PowerShell, deployment feature, and even Amazon Web Services are all available, but Orchestrator has to permeate throughout the entire datacenter. If the NSX/vSAN story comes together, then you'll definitely see a reason to use Orchestrator for workflow management.
vCenter Hybrid Service (vCHS) is drilling down to specific solutions. The recently announced vCHS disaster recovery boxes up replication into a downloadable appliance. It provides a 15-minute Recovery Point Objective and greatly simplifies the recovery process you would normally need to set up with Site Recovery Manager. VMware is also offering backup with vCHS Data Protection.
Push-button failover is one example where VMware is greatly simplifying delivery. VMware will continue down this road not only to stay a step ahead of Microsoft, but to really show that its integration with cloud doesn't require much translating, scripting and converting. VMware will make it hard for companies that are considering OpenStack and Amazon, which are offering easy solutions that don't necessarily scale to enterprise customizations, but speak to smaller resource-strapped IT departments moving toward cloud. Here, the VMware third-party support is a great addition and should expand quickly.
vCHS is the SDDC for rent. With the current model all based on prepaid subscription licenses, Amazon swooped in to offer a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) plug-in to vSphere with a pay-as-you-go model. VMware will continue to push to meet Amazon at every turn, but a pre-paid model is quite popular in an enterprise that expects to plan budgets a year in advance. In the end, it still has many business types to provide for with different needs, including licensing. VMware will offer a true pay-as-you-go cloud-billing model later in the year. There are still limitations with vCHS, such as issues with Microsoft domain controllers and specifics around supporting authentication. In this iteration, administrators need to be careful what they decide to provision to the cloud, but continued iteration will aim to address these classic on-premises issues.
... And on the Horizon
All of the products announced over the past few years, from Project Octopus to the former Horizon (now Workspace), are aimed at simplifying the end-user experience for both the user and IT. It's an exciting time because VMware aims to disrupt established players such as Citrix Systems inc. and new players like Amazon and Google Inc.
Horizon View is integrated into vSphere and offers a single-pane-of-glass-management capability as well as plugs into all of the SDDC features offered by vCenter, such as Orchestrator. In addition, vSAN integration is key, as it attempts to drop the costs of a virtual desktop to PC levels. Mirage is integrated for image management and published applications. The latest additions support multiple pods for scale-out and application publishing a la Citrix XenApp. But with the current release, Horizon View is certainly missing features around application publishing and advanced configurations before it's on par with XenApp. The pod architecture is great, but it's still managed from the command line with Windows PowerShell. In addition, some aren't so happy about profile management as it exists currently. There's justification as to why it shouldn't be there now, and the number of third-party solutions available points to a clear need to improve it if VMware continues to include it in future releases.
The Horizon DaaS platform is aimed at taking desktop virtualization off-premises and turning it into the next application you can consume from the cloud. It's not that different from View, except this time you don't have to worry about random I/O, streaming video, and disk space issues on your servers and SAN.
Aiming right for Citrix, Horizon DaaS supports persistent, non-persistent and shared desktops, as well as application publishing. After introducing the flashy features, the behind-the-scenes issues will need to be addressed. Enterprises often have heavy auditing systems for internal systems, Group Policies and other peculiars on a new platform. Of course, support for new OSes will need to be baked in, and if Microsoft starts moving more quickly introducing new features into its OSes, VMware will have to deal with that, too.
VMware really, really wants you to use Workspace as the portal for user access to all of your applications, but there seems to be a growing list of checkboxes for modern workers that carry around iPads to coffee shops. The key here is, support more applications from the Oracles to the Google Apps, and continue to refine the interface.
The big newcomer is AirWatch LLC, a leading enterprise mobile management solution that's now part of the VMware family. Although VMware removed pieces that didn't fit (like Zimbra), the AirWatch acquisition is an exciting one that definitely fits into the future of Horizon. Even if a company already has a mobile management product, the integration of AirWatch with Horizon is too good to ignore, because at some point they'll be integrated and be capable of controlling every aspect of the system, from the server to the network, out to all of the end points.
Silver Linings, All the Way
With a clear vision on what it wants to deliver -- SDDC, cloud and end-user computing solutions -- VMware is continuing to innovate in software infrastructure. Those holding lots of hardware inventory might become the extinct dinosaurs without a way to differentiate.
At VMworld 2014, you're likely to hear about major improvements on the horizon for the newest technologies for SDDC, vSAN and NSX in short order. With AirWatch, the end-user experience will be well managed, and add with it end-to-end management of VDI. The cloud not only continues to be integrated into and across VMware tools, the company is also building specific, easy-to-deploy solutions and putting desktops right in the cloud. That's only the beginning of a great VMware solutions pipeline that is taking over your infrastructure and moving the SDDC from bullet points to reality.