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New vSphere HTML5 client features, future direction explained

VMware's updated vSphere HTML5 client includes a list of new and improved features, but the bigger news is that it's the company's first true cross-platform management interface.

VMware's vSphere HTML5 client comes with a significant feature list, the most important of which are vSphere Update Manager, vSAN integration and the improved content library.

Understanding the importance of each of these features requires some analysis of VMware's position within various markets, knowledge of the cyclical nature of the IT industry and some prognostication about the future. VMware is no longer a company for which success or failure is tied to a single product.

VUM and vSAN integration

Part one of this two-part series covered the background of the Flash client, as well as its downfall. Flash might have been on its way out in 2010, but it wasn't until the end of 2014 that the vSphere HTML5 client standard was released as a World Wide Web Consortium recommendation, signifying that it was finally ready for prime time.

At the time of its release, the vSphere HTML5 client wasn't feature-complete. Not only was it missing core feature support for the ESXi hypervisor, it also didn't offer support for vSphere Update Manager (VUM) or vSAN. For many organizations, this rendered the HTML5 client next to useless.

By the end of 2016, vSAN adoption was on the rise. It was a well-tested technology with a proven track record, and it redefined the cost of data center storage for organizations that use the ESXi hypervisor. Similarly, VUM usage is so widespread that it's easier to individually count those VMware clients that don't use VUM than it is to calculate how many use it.

The release of the new HTML5 client with vSphere 6.7 Update 1 marks the first time that the HTML5 client has been reasonably considered fully featured. It marks the end of any need to use the Windows-only C# client or the cross-platform Flash client and should prove to all the VMware ecosystem partners that there is no choice but for them to port their integrations to HTML5 as soon as humanly possible.

The release of the new HTML5 client with vSphere 6.7 Update 1 marks the first time that the HTML5 client has been reasonably considered fully featured.

Without question, VMware is years late on this. In April 2017, Android's market share surpassed that of Windows, marking the end of the proprietary client era, and most browsers refused to run Flash without an increasingly frustrating series of manual overrides. Perhaps most importantly, by 2017, virtually every one of VMware's competitors -- which by this point included not only hypervisor vendors, but public cloud providers -- had rich, capable, cross-platform HTML5 interfaces.

The new VMware HTML5 interface is more than just VMware catching up; it's a declaration by VMware that it hears its customers and understands that it dropped the ball. The complete integration of vSAN and VUM are a promise to customers for the future. The future of VMware management interfaces is the vSphere HTML5 client, and the vendor understands that there are no acceptable alternatives to that path.

Content library

For over a decade, VMware was completely ignorant of the importance of application marketplaces.

Valve completely revolutionized the video games industry with the release of Steam. The App Store turned Apple into a trillion dollar company and the Amazon Marketplace is a very important part of how Amazon came to be the big name in public clouds.

However, VMware has never had much interest in marketplaces. It has always believed in simply providing the tools to stand up IT infrastructure; it's up to the customer to figure out what they want to do with it. Unfortunately for VMware, customer expectations are changing.

vSphere HTML5 client timeline

IT teams are increasingly taking a DevOps approach to IT, where everything below the application configuration and data is considered infrastructure. This means that the application itself, and everything below it, is expected to be provided as curated, precanned offerings accessible from a marketplace or, in VMware lingo, a content library.

Ordinarily, the integration of the content library into the vSphere HTML5 client wouldn't be considered particularly relevant. It's just one step on the road to feature parity, and it's entirely possible that VMware will just neglect it for the next decade, as it did the last. But for the first time, VMware technical marketers are treating the content library as more than just another feature. VMware as a company seems to understand the importance of a curated application store to the company's long-term success.

Redefinition

With the launch of a fully featured HTML5 interface, VMware is finally ready to retake its place as one of the adults in the enterprise IT market. The integration of VUM and vSAN hold the promise that other VMware products will see integration with this interface, eventually building toward a single pane of glass for administrators to oversee their IT infrastructure, whether that infrastructure lives on premises, in the data centers of public cloud providers or with vCloud Director service provider partners.

To be clear: the vSphere HTML5 client isn't enough to guarantee VMware's future. It brings VMware up to the level of basic acceptability. VMware still has to explain why it's worth paying the vendor to run workloads in its ecosystem versus simply using native public cloud tools or betting on any of the dozens of emerging multi-cloud management platforms, two options that are likely to be less expensive than continuing with VMware.

The most common answer VMware employees give for why to continue with VMware into the 2020s is that organizations are comfortable and familiar with VMware. This is the Microsoft rationale for sticking with Windows.

A curated, popular application marketplace could be part of VMware's continued reason to exist. If it's open to third parties and encourages robust ecosystem development, it could sustain VMware in the same way that the App Store sustains Apple, despite Apple having much higher prices than Android.

The vSphere HTML5 client is an important part of this. It's a common target for all partners and a single interface for IT practitioners and self-service users to train against.

This was last published in November 2018

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