Take Five With Tom Fenton
VMware Technologies That Transformed the Datacenter
Few IT companies can say they have forever changed the datacenter more quickly, or completely, than VMware.
Few IT companies can say they have forever changed the datacenter. IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and others have changed it, but none have done more to make it over, in such a short time, than VMware. Here are five of its technologies that have had the biggest impact over the years.
The first radical change came in 1998, when VMware was the first to successfully commercialize a hypervisor for the Intel x86 architecture. The product was VMware Workstation, a type-2 hypervisor designed to run on x86 PCs. The first time I saw a demo of Workstation it bluescreened my system; but after a few tweaks it ran flawlessly, and I became aware of the power of virtualization. I was amazed that I could run Linux, DOS and Windows on the same system -- at the same time!
Shortly after Workstation, VMware released ESX, a hypervisor that ran on bare metal and forever changed the datacenter. VMware customers were able to consolidate multiple servers into a single one. At first, this was only done for test/dev and non-production workloads, but as the hypervisor matured and system administrators became more comfortable with it, they started to consolidate production workloads on ESX servers. VMware had explosive growth, and made its first billion from the consolidation of servers.
VMware could have rested on its laurels and milked the consolidation cash cow for all it was worth, but it had a bigger plan for the datacenter: business continuity. In 2003 it launched Virtual Center, which came with vMotion, the next technology to change the datacenter. What amazed me the most about vMotion was that you could move a virtual machine (VM) from one server to another while it was running. This was extremely powerful. No longer did you need to stop your applications (and in many cases, your business) while updating a server's BIOS, adding more RAM to it or even decommissioning it; you simply moved your VMs to another server. Heck, you could even use it to balance your server loads.
I tried to limit my list of transformative technologies to core hypervisor technologies, but felt it necessary to include View (aka virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI). The first large technology acquisition VMware made was in 2007 when it acquired Propero, a firm that made a broker for virtual desktops. This acquisition was transformative in many ways: It allowed people to stretch out and run desktops and servers on ESX; it showed that VMware was willing to go out and select the best-of-breed companies to acquire technology; and it demonstrated in no uncertain terms that VMware wasn't just a hypervisor company.
The next technology that transformed the datacenter, and one that I think that doesn't get enough credit, is Fault Tolerance (FT). VMware introduced FT into vSphere 4 in 2009. Even though I was working for VMware at the time, FT was initially off my radar; when I first saw it demonstrated, I was blown away at how an application could keep running on a server after it was shut down. FT creates a shadow copy of a VM on a secondary host, and in the event of a failure on the first server it takes over without missing a beat or having to be rebooted. This brought business continuity to a whole new level. Tandem, Stratus and a few others had been doing this for a while, but those were exotic systems; VMware was doing it with commodity x86 servers.
Tom Fenton has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 25 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 15 years focusing on virtualization and storage. He previously worked at VMware as a Senior Course Developer, Solutions Engineer, and in the Competitive Marketing group. He has also worked as a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, where he headed the Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on Twitter @vDoppler.