VMware Unwraps 'Cloud Operating System'

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VMware formally took the covers off the new vSphere 4 "cloud operating system" this week in a bid to move beyond mere virtualization by allowing companies to build and maintain their own internal cloud architectures.

But with virtualization and cloud two sides of the same coin, is this really the paradigm-shifting event that VMware makes it out to be? Or is this just the latest version of the Virtual Infrastructure platform rebranded to tap into the growing enthusiasm for cloud services?

Last week, we could only skirt around the system's edges due to the limited information that was available. But with the official launch on Tuesday, it's clear that VMware intends to keep a step ahead of rival hypervisor vendors Citrix and Microsoft by offering a smooth path from today's virtual data center to an even more flexible and efficient architecture. The idea is to aggregate not just servers into virtual pools, but storage and networking as well, allowing applications the freedom to access the resources they need to function. Management, therefore, becomes an act of maintaining services levels rather than provisioning and organizing resources to suit data loads.

To that end, VMware says vSphere 4 goes beyond the capabilities of Virtual Infrastructure 3 in that it has the ability to handle business critical applications in large-scale environments, allows expanded control over service levels and offers greater choice among hardware, OSes, application architectures and even internal or external hosting.

And the numbers are impressive. vSphere 4 can pool up to 32 physical servers with up to 2048 processor cores, plus another 1,280 virtual machines that can now hold up to 8 processors and 10 NICs each. It triples available throughput to 30 Gbps across upwards of 8,000 ports and can maintain 16 petabytes of storage.

That being said, though, the company also touts it as a small-business solution by virtue of its ability to deliver a fully functional data center at a reasonable price. The entry-level vSphere 4 Essentials provides the same consolidation and management features that larger organizations take for granted for as little as $166 per processor. Advanced availability and data-recovery packages are available for $499 per processor. Mid-sized businesses can take advantage of integrated tools like VMware VMotion, Fault Tolerance, Data Recovery and vShield Zones.

VMware has also teamed up with Cisco to package the Nexus 1000V virtual switch with vSphere 4. The integration will be through Cisco's VN-Link system, which will see a vSphere-optimized version that can be used to create a logical network infrastructure to maintain VM network policies and provide real-time monitoring and troubleshooting.

So is this merely the upgrade path for Virtual Infrastructure, or is it a whole new product category? VMware is careful to describe it as a cloud operating system by virtue of the fact that it both manages hardware and provides the interface for enterprise applications. In that sense, the company's right, but it's important to remember that this operating system works across the enterprise, which, in my book, puts it in the category of integrated architecture. It's also important to note that VMware chose the vSphere 4 label for the launch -- the extension of VI 3, perhaps?

Either way, it looks like the strongest base yet on which to build a cloud infrastructure, which puts VMware at the forefront of the next big shift in enterprise architecture.