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2004: A VMware Odyssey

It all began with server virtualization. Now VMware products cover the entire data center, with success linked to initiatives and acquisitions that started in the mid-2000s.

VMware products have come a long way since the mid-2000s. Back then, virtualization was more of a niche technology...

with a cult following.

Today server virtualization has become ubiquitous, and VMware products dominate the market. The company has capitalized on this success and now offers other data center platforms, tools and services. Currently, VMware is making a concerted push into the cloud-computing market with products and initiatives such as vCloud Director, VMforce and Cloud Foundry.

Recently VMware has enjoyed record growth, as demonstrated by its recent acquisitions and Q1 revenue. To trace the company's success, let's review its recent milestones, product launches and initiatives. We'll start in 2004, with the first VMworld conference.

In the Beginning: VMworld 2004
The first VMworld had 1,400 attendees -- which isn't bad, but far less than the 17,000 attendees in 2010. Over the past seven years, VMworld attendance has increased dramatically, which reflects the growing popularity of virtualization (see Table 1).


VMworld U.S. attendees

VMworld Europe attendees






















Table 1: VMware’s Odyssey from 2004 through 2010

An immature virtualization market in 2005
In 2005, Microsoft Virtual Server had just been released. But it was never taken seriously because of its limitations. Also, the Xen hypervisor had been out for a year and was owned by XenSource. VMware ESX, however, was already 4 years old. And if you wanted to virtualize back then, it was the way to go. 

ESX 2.5 lacked most of the features that we rely on today, such as High Availability, Fault Tolerance or Distributed Resource Scheduler. But its standout feature was vMotion for live migration of virtual machines (VMs), which was truly new functionality and served as the foundation for other innovative features that followed.

With VirtualCenter 1.0, vMotion allowed VMs to move from host to host without a service disruption. It also helped prevent the downtime associated with planned maintenance. But it did nothing to improve availability if a host crashed, because no automated failover mechanism existed yet.

VMware Infrastructure 3 released in 2006
The release of VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) on June 15, 2006 was a major turning point for the company. Virtualization still wasn't mainstream, and a key reason was the fear of placing all eggs in one basket (e.g., if a host crashes, it would take down all its VMs with it).

But in VI3, VMware's new High Availability (HA) feature provided a safety net: an automated recovery option that would restart VMs after a host failure. It minimized VM downtime and made the risk of placing many VMs on a host acceptable. (My company, for instance, held off on full-scale deployment until VMware HA came out.)

There were other changes concerning usability and scalability that made VI3 a groundbreaking release. As a result, VI3 became an attractive choice for companies that wanted to virtualize, accelerating virtualization adoption.

Next-generation ESXi hypervisor drops in 2007
In 2007 the ESXi architecture -- initially called ESX 3i -- marked another major milestone for VMware VI3. Despite sharing the same VMkernel with ESX, the ESX 3i hypervisor's architecture significantly changed and the management layer was dramatically reduced -- resulting in a hypervisor size reduction from several gigabytes to just 32 MB.

ESX 3i forced users to choose which VMware hypervisor to deploy. Back then, most people stuck with ESX because they were comfortable with it, and ESX 3i had many limitations because of its stripped-down hypervisor, which lacks the management console.

The year of ESXi and other name changes in 2008
In 2008, VMware renamed ESX 3i to ESXi and released a free version of the hypervisor. This move came in response to Microsoft's decision to offer its standalone hypervisor, Hyper-V , free of charge.

The free, version of ESXi didn't support advanced features such as vMotion, HA or Update Manager. It also couldn't be centrally managed by VirtualCenter, and it had a read-only application programming interface (API), which limited management with scripts and third-party tools.

Other VMware products received name changes in 2008 as well. VirtualCenter became vCenter Server, and vCenter became the product family for VMware's growing collection of management and automation products. It was also during this period that VMware started to go crazy with the "V" prefixes for its products.

At VMworld, the company introduced the idea of the Virtual Datacenter Operating System, which consisted of the vCompute, vNetwork and vStorage frameworks for infrastructure services. VNetwork, for example, was the framework for distributed vSwitches and the Cisco Nexus 1000V. VStorage provided the basis for the Virtual Machine File System, Linked Clones and Thin Provisioning. And vCompute was the framework for Virtual Symmetric Multi-Processing (vSMP) and Distributed Resource Scheduler.

VMware also announced the vCloud initiative, which wasn't a product so much as an enabler for cloud service providers to use VMware's vServices APIs for managing and provisioning applications in private and public clouds.

VSphere and vExperts come to forefront in 2009
In 2009, VMware released the successor to VI3, vSphere 4.0.

The much-anticipated vSphere release jettisoned VMware even further ahead of Microsoft's Hyper-V, which was trying to catch up. VSphere included big, new features, such as Fault Tolerance, Host Profiles, Distributed vSwitches, vShield Zones and VMware Data Recovery, plus more than 100 smaller features.

In 2009, VMware also launched its vExpert program, which is similar to the Microsoft MVP program. The vExpert program recognizes IT professionals who make significant contributions to the VMware community.

VMware products in 2011
In 2010 the vSphere 4.1 release included new features and improvements, such as Active Directory integration and DRS Virtual Machine and Affinity Rules, as well as increased scalability. It also helped bridge the feature and management gap between ESX and ESXi, removing the barriers that limited the adoption of ESXi. Additionally, VMware officially announced that it would stop updating ESX, which has been its core hypervisor for 10 years.

Which brings us to today. VMware continues to expand its portfolio and press on, despite competition from others. With initiatives like Project Horizon, a cloud-based application delivery platform, VMware may become more of a full service provider in the future.

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