VMware: First Among Equals in the Cloud?

Arthur Cole
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Agile Federal Data Centers: The Drive to Thrive

VMware is making a lot of deals with a lot of people these days, all of which seem aimed at shoring up its competitive position in the burgeoning cloud market. But with this much going on, the question is: Is there a method here, or just madness?

The big surprise at VMworld this week is the company’s embrace of container-style virtualization by companies like Docker and Google. As I mentioned in my previous post, Docker containers offer a more elegant means of supporting virtualized environments by consolidating applications across a single operating system, rather than deploying multiple virtual machines each with its own OS. In sort of a grand unification earlier this week, VMware announced that it will support the Docker Engine, as well as Google’s Kubernetes container manager and Pivotal’s PaaS architecture, for workflows deployed on vSphere and the new vCloud Air platform. In this way, VMware gets to keep a hand in the action regardless of whether the enterprise utilizes containers or traditional VMs when building virtual and cloud architectures.

At the same time, the company has cut a deal with HP to bundle the Virtual Application Networks SDN controller with the NSX platform to enable advanced cloud environments that are quicker and easier to deploy and manage. The deal also calls for VMware to support HP’s OpenStack-based Helion service, which should make it easier for the enterprise to maintain consistent OpenStack environments across hybrid clouds. VMware has so far provided lukewarm support for OpenStack at best, and it is not altogether clear if the HP deal signals a more robust commitment to the platform, but it does indicate that if enterprises choose the OpenStack route they won’t be hampered by their own legacy virtual infrastructure.

This is all about building on your strengths and diminishing your rivals, say Don Clark and Shira Ovide in the Wall Street Journal. VMware is still the top dog when it comes to data center virtualization, so it is in the strongest position when it comes to extending those virtual environments to the cloud. At the same time, no one likes to be dictated to by a vendor, so VMware has to walk a fine line between market dominance and tyranny. Note that despite all the outreach to open source and container platforms, company executives like VMware CEO Patrick Gelsinger continue to downplay their relevance in the emerging cloud paradigm.

And there should be no doubt that for VMware, the cloud is where the future lies, says Forbes’ Kurt Marko. Whether it’s vSphere, NSX, vCenter or plain old ESX, the name of the game is getting customers to think beyond their data center walls and imagine a fully integrated cloud ecosystem sitting atop the VMware platform. It’s the same dream of world domination that IBM had with the mainframe and Microsoft had with the operating system, both of which achieved a fair measure of market dominance for a while until smaller, nimbler rivals emerged with radical new ways to create, manipulate and leverage digital data.

In VMware’s case, the challenges are even greater, because IT is hurtling toward a transition like it has never seen before: the erosion of the data center itself. That legacy plant is where most of VMware’s technology resides, and if it were to suddenly become too burdensome to maintain, then all that installed technology will lose its power to influence future purchase and deployment decisions.

Yes, cloud providers have data centers, too, and many of them utilize VMware virtualization, but as I mentioned before, a more efficient virtual solution would look mighty appealing to providers who value scale above almost everything else.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.

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