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From VMware virtualization to the VMware cloud

To stay relevant, VMware has to evolve beyond virtualization and toward cloud technologies. This tip examines VMware's history and explains why it needs the cloud.

This series outlines where VMware sits in the evolving cloud paradigm. I cover the VMware cloud strategy and its challenges. I want to go beyond well-documented fears about cloud computing -- such as compliance and security barriers -- and focus on the industry hurdles that impede the cloud's widespread adoption, and shine a spotlight on VMware's cloud challenges.

Over the past 24 months, I've witnessed a remarkable change in the virtualization community. Years ago, it was popular to have the following signature at the end of emails:

Virtualization: It's a journey, not a destination.

In two years, I've seen email signatures change slightly:

Cloud: It's a journey, not a destination.

The previous quote concedes that the cloud isn't here. We are still on the journey, and we haven't remotely arrived at the destination.

Companies such as VMware Inc. have forged ahead with cloud initiatives, but many users question their direction and endgame. In this article, I recount VMware's history and how it is in the process of transitioning from a virtualization behemoth into a cloud pioneer.

A brief history of VMware

VMware began as a virtualization company and initially sold a workstation product that allowed physical hardware to run more than one operating system. I will be generous and suggest that VMware intended to hook businesses into server consolidation with this product.

Between 1998 and 2010, this business model rapidly expanded the company. Customers reduced the physical numbers of servers and their associated costs, such as power, cooling and shorter deployment times.

During this period, VMware quickly evolved from a virtualization company to an infrastructure business. After all, one of its products is VMware Infrastructure 3.

Now VMware is firmly embedded in numerous companies, in much the same way that, during the mid-1990s, Microsoft Windows NT4 spread like a wildfire and usurped the once-mighty Novell. Once a data center is more than 50% virtualized, virtualization becomes just as important to an infrastructure as physical servers, networking and storage. (I consider a component a part of an infrastructure if its failure halts business operations.)

From startup to global player

VMware has used its ownership of the virtualization layer to move customers to the cloud. The timing of this directional shift shouldn't come as a surprise. It occurred when the old management team (with founders Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum) was ousted by VMware's new CEO, Paul Maritz, a former Microsoft executive.

Greene and Rosenblum were a powerful combination. In 1998, they founded VMware and steered the company through the EMC acquisition process, which was no mean feat. It was a difficult transition from a couple hundred employees in Silicon Valley. These founders achieved much in little time.

Unfortunately, a company's founders are often a poor choice to lead a company on global stage. During the past decade, VMware still had the hallmarks of a startup. The old management team lacked a clear vision beyond building hypervisors and management servers. The mantra of "Keep on doing what we do now -- but better" would not have staved off Microsoft, Citrix Systems and other independent software vendors (ISVs) that sell software with their own virtualization layer like Oracle and challenge VMware's value proposition.

In short, VMware's starting point couldn't limit the company's future and put it in a bidding war with other virtualization providers on the cost of VMware's virtualization products.

Moving toward a VMware cloud, but staying true to its roots

VMware's new emphasis on cloud technologies may create anxieties within its existing customer base. Some customers worry that VMware will invest less in its core platforms, such as ESX and vCenter. I understand the anxiety but believe that it's misplaced.

As I said previously, VMware could not remain a virtualization vendor. But there is little evidence that it will neglect its core products. VSphere 4.1, for example, has new capabilities, such as Storage I/O Control and Network I/O Control.

At VMworld 2010, VMware also demonstrated a commitment to Distributed Resource Scheduler for storage. I predict that we'll see a major vSphere update next year, in addition to a vSphere 4.5 release. From what I understand, much of the heavy lifting is already done, and VMware does not want to delay product enhancements until 2012.

So while it's clear that VMware is 100% committed to the journey, does it have the "right stuff" to reach the destination? Or will VMware cloud ubiquity remain an unfulfilled aspiration?

The next installment explains how VMware's management tools and acquisition strategies led to vCloud Director.

About the author:
Mike Laverick (VCP) has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. Laverick is the owner and author of the virtualization website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users, and has recently joined SearchVMware.com as an Editor at Large. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish VMware user groups. Laverick has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.

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