In-Depth

Top 10 News Stories from 2017

Security breaches, public cloud and CEO departures made the past year unforgettable.

The year 2017 did not lack for drama in the virtualization and cloud computing industries. There were cyberattacks galore, big mergers and partner­ships, CEOs of huge companies walking away, and lots more. We also saw the emergence of some trends that figure to get bigger in the coming years.

All of this is covered in our roundup of the Top 10 Virtualization & Cloud Review stories of 2017. A couple of notes about this list: First, it is, of course, completely subjective. Our list may not be—in fact, it probably isn't—the same as a list you'd put together. That's what makes it fun, no? Second, this concerns our little corner of the IT world. We're not especially interested that Apple released the iPhone X or that virtual reality devices are exploding in popularity. As such, news that affects the most important company in this field—VMware—will be disproportionately important, because it probably affects you a disproportionately large amount. In other words, it's not a general IT list, but rather a niche list.

With that out of the way, let's dive in with No. 1.

1. VMware Cloud on AWS
At VMworld 2017, VMware Inc. made official what it had announced previously: VMware Cloud on AWS was live. And with that announcement, the most important vendor in the virtualization space partnered up with the most important one in the public cloud space. It's a partnership that will loom large in the years ahead.

VMware Cloud on AWS essentially allows use of VMware technologies on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud. Because most admins are comfortable with vSphere, using it on AWS eases the painful cloud learning curve by a lot.

"VMware's vision," wrote Virtualization & Cloud Review columnist Tom Fenton, "is to allow the same VMware tools—and perhaps more important—your existing procedures and governance, to manage your compute, storage and networking, whether it's on-premises or in the cloud. One important question about all of this: will AWS be happy to supply only the cloud hardware and allow VMware to provide higher value services? Or will it eventually want to do more?"

VMware Cloud on AWS integrates vSphere, vSAN and NSX along with VMware vCenter management. It's optimized to run on dedicated, elastic, bare-metal AWS infrastructure. And although VMware also has deals with Microsoft, it's clearly thrown in its lot with AWS.

Is that a good thing? Virtualization & Cloud Review columnist Trevor Pott seems to think so: "VMware needs to have a cloud solution if it's to survive," he wrote. "There's no question about that, and marrying AWS is probably the smartest long-term strategy. If, however, I am correct, and the AWS-backed solution results in smaller margins for VMware than the on-premises version, VMware is going to need to make that up elsewhere."

2. The Equifax Breach
Equifax, one of the three largest credit agencies in the United States, suffered a breach in July that sent tremors throughout not just the IT industry, but the world.

Due to the sensitivity of data stolen from about 143 million consumers, the attack was called one of the worst breaches ever. Hackers were able to gain access to the company's system from mid-May to July by exploiting a weak point in Web site software; the breach was discovered by Equifax on July 29. Compromised data included full names, addresses, dates of birth, credit card numbers and more.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of more than half of Americans, as well as millions of Britons and Canadians, was released through the error. The most damaging PII of all was undoubtedly the Social Security numbers.

Newsday (nwsdy.li/2AGOjsT) reported that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Equifax, alleging the worst: that criminals are using the stolen information to apply for mortgages, credit cards, student loans, tapping into bank debit accounts, filing insurance claims and racking up substantial debts.

Apparently, the whole issue was caused by a single IT employee who failed to apply a patch to the Equifax Apache Struts system. The company's CEO retired shortly afterward, in what can only be described as suspicious timing.

During questioning of the CEO, one U.S. Rep. summed up the problem nicely: "I don't think we can pass a law that fixes stupid."

3. Microsoft Releases Azure Stack
Although Microsoft's Azure public cloud platform remains in second place behind AWS, it's a very secure second place. And with the mid-July release of Azure Stack, Microsoft could start leveraging a huge advantage it has over AWS: the on-premises datacenters of the world running racks of Windows Server boxes.

Azure Stack allows customers the benefits of public cloud tools and analytics, but brings them into their own datacenters. It works primarily as a hybrid model, using a company's own servers and connecting with the Azure public cloud for things like scaling.

Azure Stack will also serve to reduce connectivity and latency problems, two areas that remain huge challenges for the all-public-cloud-all-the-time users.

Azure has been well-received by the industry, and Redmond Editor in Chief Jeffrey Schwartz believes Azure Stack will get a similar reception (bit.ly/2Ahpq42):

"Early signs suggest there's a lot of interest, even if actual production deployments are typically few and far between at first. Overall, I've heard much higher levels of enthusiasm about the potential of Azure Stack than I did five years ago when Microsoft launched Windows Azure Pack (WAP)."

4. The Rise of Edge Computing
There hasn't been one big, show-stopping event related to edge computing this year. Instead, it's been a lot of little drips into a pot. But that pot will soon be boiling, and everyone will be talking about computing at the edge.

One thing is certain: Edge computing got on the IT radar in a significant way for the first time in 2017.

The idea behind edge computing is moving compute power closer to the device. In a way, it's the opposite of cloud computing, where numbers are crunched, code run and analysis performed on remote servers (that is, the "cloud") before heading back out to devices. That means latency, which is a necessary part of cloud computing.

That latency spurred research and development of edge computing. A prime example is self-driving cars. These driverless cars are making tons of instantaneous calculations, and they can't wait for data to be shipped back and forth to and from cloud datacenters, so much of the processing and analytics must be done closer to the device.

TechCrunch (tcrn.ch/2iZsx9m) writes about what venture capital superstar Peter Levine thinks on edge computing's future: "He believes that cloud computing is soon going to take a back seat to edge computing—and we will very quickly see the majority of processing taking place at the device level."

If you haven't heard about it yet, you're about to.

5. CEO Kirill Tatarinov Leaves Citrix
In what can't be seen as good news, no matter how hard it's spun, Citrix Systems Inc. CEO Kirill Tatarinov was out after just 18 months on the job.

The reason for the July move was never made entirely clear; nor was its primary instigator. Tatarinov announced his resignation via Twitter, another sign of the new age we live in. He tweeted that he was "stepping down as CEO," and said he was "proud of what we [Citrix] achieved & confident in their future. Amazing turnaround. Onwards!" He didn't immediately release more details on the reason for his resignation.

A Citrix press release called the move a "mutual separation decision between the Citrix board" and Tatarinov, but gave no further explanation. A decision of this magnitude happening so quickly stunned many in the industry.

Tatarinov came from Microsoft, where he'd been for 13 years. Prior to Microsoft, Tatarinov served as CTO at BMC Corp.

Tatarinov came in at a crucial time for Citrix, and left at an equally precarious time. When he took over, activist investor Elliott Management Corp., which has a seat on the board, was calling for big changes at the company. They included a renewed focus on its core products in the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) space; products like XenApp, XenDesktop, XenMobile, ShareFile and NetScaler.

The other half of the strategy involved dumping what Elliott saw as non-essentials like the GoTo line of virtual conferencing applications. They included GoToAssist, GoToMeeting, GoToMyPC, GoToTraining, GoToWebinar, Grasshopper and OpenVoice.

During his short stint, Tatarinov also oversaw the acquisition of app virtualization company Unidesk, and strengthened ties with Microsoft. Despite those achievements, however, he was out before he barely had time to warm up his CEO chair.

6. HPE Makes Significant Acquisitions
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which will be featured again in this list, bought some interesting companies that were big players in the cutting-edge area of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). First, it acquired SimpliVity for $650 million in cash, giving it ownership of one of the leading HCI vendors in the space.

It made sense for HPE. HCI is exploding in popularity; market research firm IDC reported that HCI systems sales grew by 64.7 percent in Q1 2017, compared to Q1 2016. It's a roughly $2.4 billion market now, and is predicted to grow 25 percent annually, to $6 billion by 2020.

Owning SimpliVity gave HPE a big boost in that market, and it wasted no time, selling its own SimpliVity-branded HCI appliances within a few months. SimpliVity was a strong HCI brand, and now has HPE's own brand—not to mention its sales force—behind it.

Less than two months later, HPE agreed to buy all-Flash and hybrid storage array vendor Nimble Storage for $1.2 billion. This could be seen as another step into the HCI market, as well as another move into the software-defined datacenter (SDDC) space, because virtual storage is one of the three pillars of both. Nimble also had monitoring and predictive analysis tools that were well-regarded, as well as a public cloud presence through its Cloud Volumes tech.

This may all be an acknowledgment from HPE that its future, like that of so many other large vendors, is tied to the cloud. Here's what The Register (bit.ly/2iaz43J) said: "In order for HPE to still be around 10 years from now, it has to make the hybrid cloud 'a thing,' convincing enterprises to keep some data locally and only shift data to the public cloud as needed, and preferably on a temporary basis."

7. VMware Dives into Internet of Things Management
The Internet of Things (IoT) needs no introduction. On the horizon for a number of years, it started going mainstream in 2017. With so many devices now connecting to the Internet—Gartner Inc. recently estimated that there will be 8.4 billion IoT devices in use this year—the need for management is paramount.

At the Dell EMC World 2017 conference in May, VMware recognized that need and unveiled a solution. Dubbed the VMware Pulse IoT Center, VMware touted it as "The first solution in a new family of VMware IoT offerings."

Pulse IoT Center is an enterprise-scale solution for managing and securing IoT infrastructure from the edge to the cloud. And it will certainly need to scale hugely, as Gartner also predicted that the worldwide installed base of IoT endpoints will grow to 30 billion in 2020.

Pulse IoT Center uses technology from its respected AirWatch endpoint management stack, combined with its vRealize Operations software for infrastructure monitoring and troubleshooting.

8. Meg Whitman Steps Down as HPE CEO
Whitman announced in late November that she was leaving her post as HPE CEO in February 2018. The 61-year-old is the only woman to function as CEO for two Fortune 500 companies (the other was eBay).

Whitman took over what was then Hewlett-Packard in 2011, at a low point in the company's history. Although it wouldn't be accurate to say she completely turned around the company, as HPE still faces significant challenges, she did stop it from taking on water. In fact, Whitman performed well enough to be considered for the opening as the new head of Uber (she declined to take that job). Whitman ran eBay for a decade, until 2008, and helped it become a massive player in the online community

HPE became a thing in 2015, when the company split into two entities: HP Inc. and HPE.

What Whitman's exit means for HPE is unclear, but there's always fallout when a new leader comes on board. HPE is trending more toward the cloud these days, but that's a crowded elevator, and HPE may have difficulty standing out.

9. WannaCry Wants Your Money—or Else
Was any malware ever more aptly named? WannaCry made people want to do just that during the May 2017 attack.

The method of the attack was repeated over and over: targeting Microsoft Windows systems, the cryptoworm encrypted data, including entire hard drives, and demanded payment in Bitcoin to de-encrypt it. At its peak, according to Wikipedia, it hit more than 230,000 computers in more than 150 countries. Some of the hardest hit were hospitals in the United Kingdom, some of which were left without fully functioning computer systems for weeks.

A key reason for the breadth of the attack was—stop me if you've heard this before—a failure to properly apply security patches to systems. In other words, the fixes are out there. But for whatever reason, they're not being used.

WannaCry and the Equifax breaches are just two of the most famous examples of breaches in the past year. There are many, many, more, and this list could have easily been filled with similar types of stories.

10. VMware Introduces AppDefense
Another major product VMware unveiled at VMworld 2017 was AppDefense. The company billed it as "a new security product focused on helping customers build a compute least-privilege security model for datacenter endpoints and provide automated threat detection, response, and remediation to security events."

AppDefense has three primary protection goals, which start small and get larger and more difficult to secure: applications, infrastructure and, finally, the overall security ecosystem.

As VMware explains, virtualized infrastructure can, in theory, be fully automated. That's both good and bad, as the company points out: "Using the unique properties of virtualization, AppDefense uses the capture, detect, and respond techniques to provide functionality the security administrator can use to capture known good configurations for functional whitelisting, detect anomalies against this known good configuration, and provide automated remediation of anomaly based malicious activity."

Despite this description, Pott had serious questions for VMware's new security tool: "But just exactly how in-depth does VMware's AppDefense go, and how far does VMware plan to go? Does VMware's talk of 'machine learning' mean that it will do Bromium-like snooping and whitelisting of application processes, investigating active libraries and even individual hooks for deviant behavior? Will AppDefense make use of VMware's patent for hot swapping operating systems out from under running applications?"

Those questions have yet to be answered, but it's clear at the very least that VMware understands the scope of the security problem.

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