VMware, VMworld and the Future of Virtualization

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    What Business Leaders Need to Know About Virtualization

    VMworld is fast approaching, so it’s probably a good time to take stock of the virtualization market. You remember virtualization, don’t you? It’s the technology that kicked off the whole cloud/software-defined revolution that is basically upending the entire data center industry as we know it.

    Hard as it may be to believe, server virtualization is now firmly entrenched in what is commonly known as an “established” or “mature” market. That means the technology’s fundamental innovation curve has run its course and it has made the move from disruptive newcomer to established practice throughout the IT industry. But don’t get the idea that all the action is over in the virtual realm. Indeed, a quick scan of the line-up at VMworld indicates the basic technology can still be applied to a range of data center architectures.

    Virtualization Review’s Elias Khnaser, for one, ID’s a number of small innovators that will be tucked between the mammoth EMC, NetApp and Cisco displays on the show floor. Some, like Tintri and Nutanix, have already made names for themselves applying virtual concepts to storage and networking infrastructure, thereby ushering in the software-defined data center. Other newcomers like PernixData and FSLogix are seeking to extend virtualization into flash infrastructure and even to the application layer. His top pick, though, is Panzura, developer of a cloud-based storage controller for globally distributed storage architectures, which would essentially allow the enterprise to build a worldwide NAS.

    VMworld is kind of an odd duck in trade show circles, however, considering it doubles as both a showcase for VMware and a general industry confab. So while most exhibitors fit comfortably within the VMware ecosystem, others would like nothing better than to pull the rug out from under their host. One of these is Oracle, which has been busy leveraging its own Oracle VM for a new generation of engineered systems aimed at marrying high-performance hardware with advanced virtualization techniques in support of converged, modular infrastructure. Last year’s purchase of Xsigo turned out to be a key element in this strategy as it introduced a virtual network component to link systems like Exadata, Exalogic and Exanalytics into a unified data center platform.

    Also notable at this year’s show will be the diminished role that previous virtualization stalwarts are playing. A key example is Citrix, according to Server Watch’s Paul Rubens. The Xen platform was once considered a rival to VMware and Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor, although the company now seems content to establish itself within the virtual desktop niche. This is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, as the desktop represents the last great field of largely unvirtualized infrastructure in the data center. Plus, if the company can successfully wed its VDI platform with a working mobile strategy, it could very well become the defining force in a very lucrative unified user interface market.

    So how does VMware feel about its role in this still vibrant partner/competitor universe it has built around itself? Pretty good, actually. Many pundits point to the maturity of server virtualization itself and conclude that VMware’s best days are behind it, but if the recent establishment of a $700 billion stock buyback program is any indication, the company is supremely confident in its ability to navigate the transition to cloud and software-defined infrastructure. As well, support for OpenFlow, OpenStack and other industry-driven initiatives suggests the company is content to dominate markets through alliances and partnerships rather than outright control, as some leading platform developers have tried to do in the past (cough, Microsoft).

    To be sure, however, VMware’s dominance over virtualization is by no means certain. With the virtual environment as dynamic as it is, plotting out growth and development paths is exceedingly difficult – that’s just the nature of chaos.

    And in chaotic environments, even dominant figures like VMware can fall prey to the unexpected.

    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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