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VMware wants a bigger role in your data center

VMware is still the top player in the hypervisor market, but the coming year will see the company move far beyond its original focus of virtualizing x86 servers.

VMware is “no longer a virtualization company,” says Forrester analyst Frank Gillett, who adds that VMware's current focus is providing tools that unlock the potential of virtualization, providing greater flexibility in the data center, improved disaster recovery and high availability.

VMware is banking much of its success on a proposed Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), a forthcoming software platform that will aggregate virtualized servers, storage and network resources into one big computing pool that allocates resources to users and applications.

Full details have not yet been revealed, but VMware promises it will be on the market in 2009. The release will likely be highly anticipated within the industry, as it could help enterprises build more flexible, highly automated networks that are becoming known as “private clouds.”

As VMware CEO Paul Maritz argued at the company's annual conference, enterprises are trying to be like Google by turning themselves into hosting providers that can deliver services to customers on demand and in a highly scalable way.

“They think Google has this giant computer they can flexibly deploy applications on top of, and that's what they aspire to achieve,” Maritz said.

The Virtual Datacenter Operating System will be composed of several pieces of software, some of which have been made available to customers in a private beta, says Bogomil Balkansky, VMware senior director of product marketing.

VDC-OS will go far beyond the virtualization capabilities on the market today, Balkansky says. In addition to guaranteeing high availability, security and scalability, the data center operating system will abstract CPU, memory, storage and network capacity, aggregating all the elements of the computing fabric into logical resource pools that can then be deployed to virtual machines and applications.

Convincing enterprises that the VDC-OS deserves such a commanding role in the data center will not be an easy task, Gillett says. It also stands to reason that operating system and systems management vendors such as Microsoft, Red Hat and Sun will ultimately offer products along the same lines.

“But it's ultimately a compelling vision in the marketplace, whether it's VMware or someone else,” Gillett says.

As comprehensive as VMware's vision may seem, there are limitations. VMware software, even the upcoming VDC-OS, manages only virtual resources. Physical servers that aren't running VMware's hypervisor are left out.

Secondly, VMware manages only servers virtualized by VMware. While Microsoft seems prepared to make a run in the virtualization market with Hyper-V, Balkansky argues that the adoption rate of Hyper-V and other hypervisors is so low that managing them is not worth expending VMware's R&D resources.

“As of today, managing the other hypervisors doesn't represent a big enough market opportunity for us,” he says. Balkansky doesn't expect that to change substantially in 2009, he adds.

Gillett says he's interested to see whether VMware ultimately relents and decides to offer management tools for both virtual and physical servers, and for other hypervisors. (Compare server products.) Gillett notes that Microsoft is trying to position itself as a better alternative than VMware when it comes to interoperability.

Balkansky acknowledges that VMware sees Microsoft as being its biggest competitor, but says VMware's product road map should keep it on top.

One of VMware's key products is VMotion, which makes it possible to move workloads from one physical server to another without any downtime. Today, VMotion is only practical for moving workloads among servers within the same data center, but the VDC-OS will let VMotion move workloads from one physical data center to another, Balkansky says.

VDC-OS isn't VMware's only focus in 2009. The company is also planning to boost its desktop virtualization capabilities and roll out vCloud, which will help customers connect their own data centers to those of external providers, making cloud data centers appear as a natural extension of an enterprise's own resources.

“I personally think this tough economic environment will probably accelerate the movement toward cloud computing,” Balkansky says.

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