IT today is at in an inflection point and needs to innovate further to incorporate real-time, flexible and context-aware infrastructure
Key to this is the vision of a software-defined data center, which brings the benefits of server virtualization to the entire data center
INFORMATION technology today is at an inflection point as customers are demanding new levels of service experience and the path forward for enterprises is to go beyond server virtualization and embrace the software-defined data center (SDC), say VMware executives.
In his keynote address to over 15,000 people on Monday (Aug 27) at the ongoing VMworld convention this week, CEO Paul Maritz (pic), said IT is being influenced by an enormous set of forces that is working through the industry, and this goes beyond the buzzwords that it likes to be associated with, which include terms such as cloud, mobilization, and social.
"I believe that what's really happening [here] is that we're coming to the mature stages of a very successful journey of 50 years to automate most of the IT processes in the world," he said.
Held at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, VMworld is the Palo Alto-based virtualization and cloud computing player's yearly conference for customers, partners, analysts and the media.
Noting that IT has gone through all the basic business processes -- general ledger, accounting, catalogue sales, messaging -- all of which have been successfully turned into computer based processes, Maritz said businesses today are absolutely dependent on these processes and they are not going to go away.
"However, at this point, [these] are just table stakes and every business is expected to have this," he explained. "What's happening now is that there is an imperative to fundamentally deliver new experiences as people want to experience information in different ways.
"[For instance], if you're a bank, simply presenting a monthly statement as a web page instead of sending paper is no longer innovative," he said. "We need to look at new ways to provide access to information and in real time, and above all, in the context of what people are doing."
Maritz said all these new experiences can't be delivered on today's IT infrastructure and there’s got to be a fundamental change in innovation to allow people to bring together different screens of information, and to be able to reason with those screens in real time.
Innovation will also require IT to present a much more relevant experience in the context of who they are and where they are, and what they are doing, he added.
"And it's these forces that I think are really going to have a big impact in our industry," he declared.
Pat Gelsinger (pic), president and COO of EMC and the incoming CEO, believes that this was a period of great disruption in the industry as virtualization is well on the way to becoming a mainstream approach to enterprise computing and will form the basis of the next generation of computing known as software defined data center.
"Personally, I'm committed to the strategy that Paul [Maritz] has laid out," he said in his keynote. "My role as CEO is to accelerate, refine and deliver on the vision that has been described." Gelsinger is scheduled to take over from Maritz on Sept 1 in a shuffle decided back in July, with the latter making a transition to become chief strategist at VMware's parent company, EMC.
Next gen software-defined data center
Gelsinger said VMware has made good progress in virtualization as about 60% of its customers have virtualized their workloads today as compared to only 20% four years ago. In tandem with this, processes such as IT server provisioning via virtualization today have reduced to mere hours or days compared to weeks or days a few years ago.
However, there are still many aspects in the enterprise that require physical intervention, Gelsinger said, noting that this is where the advantage of a SDC comes in.
"There are still many aspects of networking and security provisioning that require physical intervention, he said. "The challenge is for us to make [these processes] as easy as it is to deploy a virtual machine [in a server environment] as we go forward, which is the virtual data center (VDC) of the future.
Likening today's legacy IT infrastructure to proprietary-driven systems like mainframes and fixed relational databases that lock users in, Gelsinger said the data centers of today consist of "museums of IT past," and silos of different IT infrastructure put together.
"Our view of this is that it's time to move on and away from this thinking. We have to do what we've done to compute and memory to the rest of the elements of the data center. We have to abstract it, pool resources together and finally to automate it. This is central to the SDC of the future -- the entire data center delivered as a set of services, in a just-in-time fashion."
Microsoft is only ‘good enough’
Asked how VMware was rising to the occasion to meet its competitors – notably Microsoft Windows' up-and-coming Server 2012 release, as well as challengers such as Citrix Systems -- Maritz was bullish, noting that the Redmond, Washington giant’s stragegy has not changed much.
“Their strategy for the last seven years have been to say our products are ‘good enough,’ not that it’s the leading product,” he said during a media briefing following his keynote. “[Their message] is that ‘You should buy us because our product is good enough'."
Maritz added that the reality of it is that people’s expectation of what is needed is rapidly deteriorating and the game is no longer about the hypervisor (the engine behind virtualization).
“Everybody give it away for free – Hyper-V is free, so is Xen [from Citrix] and KVM [from Red Hat]. Today our goal is to extend the benefits of virtualization not just to server environment but also to whole data center.
“Right now when Microsoft is practically announcing that they’re ‘good enough’ for virutalization, we are announcing that the game’s changed – it’s about data center virtualization.”
Don't underestimate Microsoft
David Johnson (pic) senior analyst, desktop, mobile infrastructure & operations, Forrester Research, noted that it is good to see the ideas around the SDC materializing. “The trick is to master automation at the silicon hardware [layer] too,” he told Digital News Asia on the sidelines of VMworld.
Johnson said VMware has had a lot of "irons in the fire" for the past few years and that they've lost some focus chasing the Cloud OS ideas, which is not paying off fast enough.
“[But it's good that] they're returning to their roots of delighting administrators now tasked with cloud services to maintain, and I think they're going in the right direction,” he said.
Asked what he thought of Maritz dismissing Microsoft as a credible competitor, Johnson said VMware had missed the boat on this [SDC] opportunity a couple of years ago and it now has to now “run like crazy" to keep ahead of Microsoft's remarkable progress with regard to the peformance of Windows Server 2012.
"When Microsoft releases its Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V, it's going to do some damage to VMware potentially," he explained. "Microsoft has done a lot to remove some of the barriers in terms of performance. VMware is ahead [for now] and have spent some time working out the SDC ideas, and although it doesn't have all the pieces that they need in place yet, but they can work on that fairly quickly."
On what would drive customers to Microsoft from VM ware, Johnson said unquestionably it would be cost economics. "Microsoft does have considerable pricing leverage because of the number of servers running on Windows operating systems. The also have a very large installed-base of customers too," he said, adding that this is where VMware must not be blind sided.
Edwin Yapp of Digital News Asia reports from VMworld 2012, San Francisco, California
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