Sunday, August 12, 2012

Looking Forward to VMworld 2012

It's that time again - VMworld. For the 2011 event in the US, I wrote some before and after thoughts on the state of technology, new trends and the event.

Given the actions that VMware has taken recently (new CEO, Software Defined Data Center vision, Nicira acquisition, DynamicOps acquisition, Cetas acquisition, CloudFoundry + OpenStack),  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that VMworld 2012 will be one of the most highly watched events that IT has seen for a long time (all Apple announcements not withstanding). It's not a reach to say that every aspect of VMware will be questioned:

  • New Leadership - Pat Gelsinger (CEO) takes over a business that must learn how to regain it's technology leadership in a space that will face intense commoditization (hypervisor). His Intel experience should be an excellent fit for this task. It must also determine what role it will play in Public and Hybrid clouds, with speculation growing that it may launch public services.
  • New Technology - From VMware's perspective, in order to not only deliver great Enterprise services but also compete with Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Rackspace (or other OpenStack SPs), it needed to be able to control the automation and management of every aspect that impacted a VM. The acquisition of Nicira was the next logical step, as existing networks were never designed for the mobility and dynamic nature of today's environments. 
  • Evolving Technology - Considering the possibility that more and more customers would adopt a Hybrid Cloud model (private/public, or multi-public), it's interesting to see VMware finally acknowledge heterogenous environments with both the DynamicOps and Nicira acquisitions. Support for multiple hypervisors, multiple Cloud providers and various elements of open-source are all potentially in play. It'll be interesting to see how VMware plans to blend in the different elements.
  • New Revenue Sources - CloudFoundry seems to be gaining momentum with the announcements by several Cloud providers to launch services on top of this open-source PaaS platform (Tier 3, Uhuru, etc.), but how will VMware monetize beyond the ESX hypervisor and vSphere tools? vFabric is making progress and has some very interesting functionality, but is the knowledge getting out to the market? Where are the vFabric evangelists like there are for vSphere?
Simon Wardley (@swardley) had some interesting perspectives on VMware in his blog today. As you can see, he highlights many of the questions that people have about VMware's future strategies, partnerships and technology direction. Some of the insight may seem extreme at first glance, but given Simon's open-source background and incredible ability to analyze strategic models, I wouldn't discard anything he says. [Disclosure - I am currently employed by EMC, but none of my comments should be interpreted to have insider knowledge of VMware strategy or plans.] 

For me, these are the key areas that I'd like to see greater clarity:
  1. How does the vCloud Director (vCD) and DynamicOps integration come together? Unlike vCenter, which did an excellent job of opening up the ability for ecosystem integration (network, storage, management, virtual-appliances), vCD has always been very closed. Networking - closed. Security - closed. Storage - limited. Multi-Cloud choice - limited. So will DynamicOps be used to allow hybrid cloud management, or just used to manage 3rd-party hypervisors? Or will it eventually replace vCD? 
  2. VMware has historically always shown technology previews at VMworld, typically 12-18 months out, which signals where they expect to embed functionality that currently resides in 3rd-party HW/SW into VMware platforms. With their new vision of Software Defined Data Center, I'd expect to see this included an expanding list of functionality. It will be very interesting to see how this impacts their partner ecosystem, or if they signal a greater level of participation in open-source efforts. vFabric has had this for a while with SpringSource integration. They inherit some from Nicira (OpenStack Quantum, Open vSwitch) and DynamicOps (XenServer management) but also via work with Puppet Labs + Razor, CloudFoundry, and CloudFoundry + OpenStack.
  3. While Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a cool concept, networking is very difficult to get right. The early buzz is that Nicira customers are pleased with the technology, but how SDN fits into non-greenfield environments will be the more interesting question. Understanding about SDN is still in the early stages, and many networking-gurus still aren't sure what the killer use-cases are. VM Mobility is an immediate need in the Enterprise, but will it be a compelling enough use-case for companies to change their networking model vs. existing (and semi-new) overlay models such as VXLAN? How quickly will Enterprise networking teams be able to deal with SDN, or will this be the tipping point for Server teams to take back greater control over the connectivity of applications? 
  4. The vision of Software Defined Data Center is a powerful concept, and one that I believe has many of the pieces in place to succeed with today. It's the next evolution of intelligent software delivering IT differentiation on consistent hardware. It'll drive a new set of integration rules for software elements, and it'll open up new opportunities for hardware to deliver greater speed and capacity to move the massive amounts of data being generated by users and applications. 
  5. VMware has started building their Big Data story with the Cetas acquisition, open-source Project Serengeti and new elements of vFabric / GemFire / SQLFire. Unlike CloudFoundry, which seems to have a clear Cloud vision, it's not immediately obvious how VMware is trying to shape this segment of the market. They are showing that virtualization can play a role in Big Data (easier setup of environments; self-service consumption), but is there a bigger play they will attempt to capture with a more unified vision? Software Defined Data Center plays a role in infrastructure setup and operations, but how does it play in the Big Data middleware stack that is being created? And how does it tie into CloudFoundry, which also supports MongoDB, MySQL, Redis.  
In the past, VMworld was often perceived to be an infrastructure show. Now they have the attention of application developers, DBAs, OpenStack, networking teams, cloud providers and a breadth of partners trying to figure out their role in the new world VMware is trying to build. How many of these questions are answered will determine not only the future of VMware, but have far reaching impact on many segments of the IT ecosystem. And I didn't even speculate on what might happen if some of the other rumors turn out to be even partially true. It's a fun time to be involved with aspects of VMware and VMworld. 

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