Into the Cloudy Future

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Now that VMworld is wrapping up, the question is: "What have we learned?"

Hopefully, many of you are walking away with a clearer vision as to how to implement a virtual environment if you don't already have one, or if you do, how best to leverage it for capabilities and services beyond simple server consolidation.

In a macro sense, however, the questions center around virtualization itself. Where is it going? What kind of capabilities will we be seeing next year? In five years? In 10?

For those kinds of answers, we turn to the people who are propelling the industry, which at VMworld would be the top execs at VMware. And if CEO Paul Maritz's keynote is any guide, we're going to be hearing a lot more about the cloud in the coming years -- if that's possible. Whether it's through vSphere or partnerships with Cisco, Intel and others, the focus will be on greater productivity and greater flexibility. But to get there, enterprises will have to transition from current VMware platforms to more cloud-specific environments, which the company plans to do through a range of products like vCenter and vSphere essentials.

From CTO Stephen Herrod, we're hearing about many of the practical applications that both virtualization and cloud should bring in the coming years. Desktop virtualization is one that has been covered to death, but he's also talking about things like near-instant disaster recovery, where literally hundreds of VMs can be transferred to backup at a moment's notice. Load balancing on a global scale is also within the realm of possibility, once the proper level of integration between internal virtual environments and external clouds has been achieved.

It would be easy for a company like VMware to determine that it is in the virtualization business. But to their credit, Maritz and Herrod seem to realize that virtualization is merely a tool to greater enterprise productivity. At a time when they are arguing that virtualization is replacing the operating system as the central component in the data center, it seems they too are willing to place their flagship technology on a tier just below the cloud. I wonder if Microsoft will follow the same course?

That such a change is difficult but necessary is a lesson that many server manufacturers are learning the hard way. With server sales in the dumps, mostly due to virtualization and consolidation, the top manufacturers are hell-bent on jumping on the virtual bandwagon before it passes them by. How else to explain the fact that Dell is looking to integrate VMware technology across its entire product line, while the likes of IBM, HP and Intel are Platinum sponsors at VMworld? Rather odd behavior for companies whose core businesses are being eaten alive, unless they all have seen the writing on the wall.

We tech pundits have been using the term "paradigm shift" quite casually over the past few decades to describe everything from digital video to the service-oriented architecture. Well, folks, this is the real deal. The changes about to take place will result in you no longer being in complete charge of your own data universe.

As data, applications, storage and networking breach the bricks and mortar of the data center, how well you do your job will increasingly depend very much on how well the rest of the world does its.