VMworld Shines Spotlight on Virtualization

VMware's dazzling Wall Street debut last month aimed a spotlight on virtualization, the rapidly evolving technology that provides a logical view of computing resources, rather than a physical view. This week (Sept. 11-13), the beam stayed focused, as nearly 11,000 people attended the company's annual VMworld Conference and Expo at San Francisco's Moscone Center.

VMware pioneered virtualization technology and then fostered its reemergence today. The company developed the first hypervisor for the x86 architecture in the 1990s, planting the seeds for the current virtualization boom. VMware now commands 65 percent of the virtualization market, according to Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio.

VMware's Chief Executive and Cofounder Diane Greene noted the turn of events at the event's opening keynote speech.

"A year ago, we were talking about virtualization becoming mainstream," she told a packed auditorium. "Now, we're talking about a virtualization industry."

Greene said that virtualization is now driving "a complete infrastructure refresh" that includes not only the data center, but all infrastructure products.

"The virtualization layer is offering a better way to handle disaster recovery, security, provisioning and more," she said, "and we're even helping companies use less power."

This year's conference keynote lineup offered something of an all-star cast. It included AMD's Chief Exec Hector de J. Ruiz, Cisco Systems' CEO John Chambers, Intel's GM and SVP Patrick Gelsinger, and Greene's husband and VMware Cofounder Dr. Mendel Rosenblum. Dell Chief Michael Dell spoke via video address, as did Fujitsu Siemens' Barbara Schadler, Hewlett Packard's James Mouton, IBM's Bill Zeitler and NEC's Yoshikazu Maruyama.

AMD Rolls Out Chip
During his keynote, AMD's Ruiz declared, "Virtualization has reached a tipping point." He added, "Virtualization is one of those technologies that comes along in our lifetime that changes everything."

Ruiz spelled out some of the changes to be seen with virtualization technology.

"It addresses energy efficiency and affordable Internet access, and it shifts control from IT vendors to IT customers…. When the idea of virtual machines presented itself, the industry was given a choice: Either innovate or get out of the way," he said.

He also talked about his company's new Opteron quad-core x86 microprocessor family, formerly code-named "Barcelona." The company launched the new chip family on Monday with a splashy release event at the Presidio in San Francisco. The new quad-core chips will come with the AMD-V virtualization layer, which will provide virtual machine environments from VMware, Microsoft, Xen and others.

Cisco's VMware Partnership
Cisco's Chambers was one of the most entertaining speakers at VMworld. As he often does at these kinds of events, he left the stage and prowled the first few rows of the audience, talking fast, admonishing the crowd like a Southern preacher to prepare for a virtualization revolution.

"In the next five to 10 years, we will see a replay of what happened in the 1990s," he said. "This will usher in a new generation of productivity, changing how we work, where we work and the nature of work itself."

Chambers has been touting the virtues of virtualization for some time, and on the day of his keynote, Cisco announced a major technology-integration partnership with VMware. The San Jose, Calif.-based computer networking giant plans to integrate its VFrame Data Center with the VMware ESX Server. The result: the VFrame hardware will be able to load the ESX Server software dynamically onto other hardware and configure the physical server's input and output ports to use Cisco's data center switches. The integration will create the industry's first hardware-integrated virtualization machine monitor, the company said.

In a preconference interview, Bill Erdman, senior director of marketing at Cisco's Server Virtualization Business Unit, said that the deal was the culmination of a 12- to 15-month collaboration.

"VMware has great management tools at the hypervisor layer on up to the virtual machine layer," he said. "We are augmenting that by adding good provisioning and management tools from the hypervisor down through the bare-metal server and out through the network to the SAN (storage area network). We're completing the equation for them by mapping the hypervisor to a rich set of network connections and a rich set of SAN connections."

Cisco provided early beta code at the show. It plans to release the official beta in the fourth quarter of this year, and the tools will be generally available in the first quarter of 2008.

VMware Acquires Dunes
VMware made several announcements at this year's show. The company's acquisition of Dunes Technologies, a Lausanne, Switzerland-based provider of IT process orchestration software for virtual environments, was the headline grabber. The Dunes orchestration platform complements existing VMware management and automation solutions, such as VMware Lab Manager and the recently announced VMware Virtual Desktop Manager. That platform will help VMware to automate the entire virtual machine lifecycle, from requisition to decommissioning, said VMware's VP of products and solutions Raghu Raghuram, in a statement.

"As customers move toward large-scale virtual infrastructure deployments, they need solutions that allow them to maintain control over a growing number of virtual machines," Raghuram said.

The company also announced the EXS Server 3i, a new "thin" hypervisor. The hypervisor is the most basic virtualization component. It's the software that decouples the operating system and applications from their physical resources. A hypervisor has its own kernel and is installed directly on the hardware, or "bare metal."

The EXS Server 3i is the new architectural foundation for VMware Infrastructure 3, the company's flagship virtualization management software. It's small enough to fit on a flash chip and can be embedded directly into servers and storage boxes. According to the company, VMware customers will be able to implement the entire suite of VMware Infrastructure 3 products on top of this foundation. Third-party partners, including Dell, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, HP, IBM, NEC, among others, plan to integrate the software into their server hardware.

VMware also disclosed that is has released large portions of its VMware Tools as open source software, under GPL and GPL-compatible licenses. The tools will be implemented as part of the Open Virtual Machine Tools project, hosted by SourceForge. VMware Tools are a set of guest operating system virtualization components designed to enhance the performance and user experience of virtual machines. The tools are currently composed of kernel modules for Linux and user-space programs for all VMware-supported Unix-like guest operating systems.

Sun's Virtualization Desktop Infrastructure
Sun Microsystems previewed new technology designed to integrate its Sun Virtualization Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software with VMware's Infrastructure software, resulting in what the company describes as "an end-to-end desktop virtualization solution." The new connectivity features utilize management interfaces available in the VMware Infrastructure product to administer virtual desktop life cycles, while providing users with access to their virtual desktops from nearly any modern client, the company said.

Sun expects to make the VDI software available in October, and release it as a component of Sun Virtual Desktop Solutions in early 2008. The initial release will support VMware Infrastructure deployments; the company plans to release versions designed to support other popular virtualization solutions.

Symantec Enhances Server
Security software vendor Symantec sponsored a unique "speed dating" event at this year's show. The event put reporters, customers, and analysts together with Symantec execs and engineers for quick, one-on-one discussions of best practices for overcoming the most critical management challenges associated with extending server virtualization initiatives into production environments. The 10-minute briefings focused on high availability and disaster recovery, data protection, storage management and security in virtualized environments.

Symantec also announced enhancements to its Veritas Cluster Server for VMware ESX and Veritas Application Director products at the show. Both are designed to strengthen VMware environments for production use and simplify management of virtual machines in the data center. The Cluster Server, which is an enterprise-class high-availability and disaster recovery solution, now provides expanded support for critical business application environments, such as Microsoft Exchange, and it enhances disaster recovery capabilities with broader data replication support. Application Director now comes with heterogeneous virtual machine management capabilities for controlling VMs and optimizing server resource utilization in large data centers (centers with hundreds or thousands of physical servers and virtual machines).

VMware and the Big Picture
Mendel Rosenblum delivered the conference keynote closer on Thursday. The assistant professor of computer systems at Stanford University cofounded VMware with Diane Greene, as well as Stanford grad students Edouard Gugnion and Scott Devine, and Berkeley engineer Edward Wang, back in 1998. He now serves as the company's chief scientist.

"A lot of people thought that we were just a Linux tool," Rosenblum told ADT in an interview last year, "but we had bigger plans than that."

During his keynote, Rosenblum joked with his audience that virtualization had evolved into a kind of "pixie dust" that gets sprinkled on the data center so that everything runs better. And yet it's fair to say that what virtualization is actually doing for the data center is just short of magical.

"What we're doing effectively is taking things that were statically assigned in the past and turning them over to a piece of software that makes decisions about how to schedule it," Rosenblum said. "We're moving toward this idea of a data center that manages the hardware itself."

The slogan for this year's show, "You're Virtually There," was posted throughout the Moscone convention center, but 10,800 attendees, representatives of 200 exhibiting companies, and about 100 journalists were there in the flesh. That number was a far cry from the mere 1,400-plus who attended the first VMworld event just four years ago.

Palo Alto-based VMware's initial public offering raised $1.1 billion, and threw the media spotlight on the company, but conference organizers point out that most attendees had bought their tickets long before the company went public in August. That IPO beat the high-tech company record set when Google went public just three years ago. Before the Google IPO, Yahoo's initial public offering set the record; before Yahoo, it was Netscape.