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VMworld 2012: Back to the future (of the data centre)

A management odyssey

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I had a great time, as always, at VMworld last week. My seventh time was busier than ever. If I had to summarise my gut feeling about this year, it was VMware’s return to the future of the datacenter. Yes, there was plenty of cloud-ness, but the main thrust of VMware’s message was: there’s a lot left to virtualise, encapsulate, and mobilise in the datacenter, and we’re the best company to help you do it…whether or not you’re heading for the clouds. The cloud isn’t everything, nor should it be. It’s one of many paths to a more efficient, responsive, and available IT infrastructure. Companies aren’t going from data centres and managed services to the cloud in one monolithic transition. They’re looking at everything from their virtualised workloads to their big databases to their productivity apps and asking two questions: Can I run them cheaper, faster, and better in-house first? And, when will it make more sense to run them in my or someone else’s cloud? Part of that decision is cost — will cloud save money?

A bigger question, though, is: Who decides? Will application teams and app developers go to the cloud themselves, without waiting for IT? In many cases, they already are. Or will today’s virtualisation admins lead the way? VMware’s betting on both, and it used VMworld this year to arm its core audience —VMware admins — with a strategy. My colleague Glenn O’Donnell calls VMware’s core audience the Illuminati (heh), and VMworld is certainly designed for them.

So is the new unified vCloud Suite, combining vSphere, vCenter Operations Management (with config and capacity rolled in last year), and vCloud Director into a complete virt+cloud management stack. That’s a lot of boxes, but VMware has to do it: As the hypervisor itself gets less sticky, and as competition catches up, VMware has to both broaden and simplify the management story to arm datacenter admins with enough of the right tools to not only create a killer private cloud but get their application environments ready for a public cloud. The vCloud Suite, combined with the DynamicOps and Nicira acquisitions, gives VMware a story for virtualisation of every existing data centre tier (and the foundation for the software-defined data centre), plus the connectors and lifecycle management tools to mobilise workloads to public IaaS platforms. Of course, the acquisitions also herald a new era of openness at VMware, with OpenStack also on the horizon.


vCloud Suite is still obviously a marketecture at this point. The acquisitions were just wrapped up a few weeks ago, so I’ll give them a pass, but I’m looking forward to some real guidance on when and how each should box is going to be built, integrated, and deployed. Which VMware orchestrator, service manager, and lifecycle tools have won the day? Which acquired management tools (and there are plenty) will quietly fade away? I’m hoping to hear more on this from Barcelona.

And if you needed any more evidence that the VMware Illuminati still call the shots at VMworld, look at the two vendors that won the TechTarget Best of VMworld 2012 awards Management category, New Technology category, and Best of Show: Intigua and Hotlink. Intigua virtualises and encapsulates management agents, those bugbears of every admin’s life; HotLink lets you manage Hyper-V and other VM types — including AWS instances — from vCenter seamlessly. I’m impressed by both companies and have been diving deeper on both recently — these products are simple, laser-focused, easy to understand and demo, and designed to make real-world, everyday management of virtual environments simpler, faster, and less of a mess. Period.

For VMware, though, this was a management & strategy show, not a product show. Rounding out the news, VMware also announced education and advisory services and enhanced offerings for SMBs. And Dave Johnson covers the View-related content with his usual flair here. Finally, just for the record, I’m neutral about the shift back to processor-based pricing. The backlash was fierce, and it was right to listen to customers, but I still don’t think counting physical infrastructure is the way to license for the next generation of data centres or clouds. It’s clear vRAM wasn’t the way either, though.

Next for VMware? Focus, focus, focus. Where does the company want to win? The current answer is “everywhere”: data centreand cloud, packaged apps and new apps, the entire systems management stack, admins and developers, virtualised storage, software-defined networking, and the virtual desktop. That’s a lot of simultaneous vectors to juggle, a lot of established competitors to chase, a lot of partners to woo, and a lot of new acquisitions to pull together. Over to you, Pat!
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