Last week's VMworld conference was arguably the most significant virtualization event to date. I say this because most of VMware's direct competitors who exhibited at and participated in VMworld were overwhelmed with attendee interest throughout the week. Nearly every vendor in the virtualization ecosystem made major announcements during the conference, making the sheer volume of virtualization news as tough to digest as airport food.
Several major announcements received significant coverage at VMworld, including:
Several other topics were slightly under the VMworld radar, but equally important.
Data Center Automation Gathering Steam
Vendors in the server and data center provisioning space had very busy weeks. Automation tools demonstrated by vendors such as Cisco Systems, Scalent Systems, HP, Opalis, and Cassatt were extremely popular. Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers delivered a passionate keynote Wednesday morning that received critical reviews by some members of the press and analyst community. One analyst thought that VMworld is for "server guys" who don't care what a "network guy" has to say. Another thought that Cisco was merely trying to jump on the virtualization bandwagon.
On my shuttle ride to San Francisco airport following the conference, several of the riders brought up John Chambers' speech as one of the things they remembered most about the conference. Cisco is amongst a pool of vendors trying to take on the full spectrum of data center automation, which requires on-demand deployment of server, storage, and network resources. I believe that the future data center will have the intelligence to add server, storage, and network resources on-demand, and remove resources when they are no longer needed, leading to infrastructure agility as well as substantial power and cooling savings. Servers cannot be added to a virtual machine cluster without configuring dependent storage and network resources, and vendors working toward solving this difficult problem clearly have an eye on the future.
While data center automation sounds great on paper, getting organizations to buy-in to such a dynamic technology is another story. To me, that was the essence of John Chambers' speech. His speech was about change and how organizations succeed by pushing the technological envelope. He talked about achieving greater organizational efficiency by leveraging new IT trends which include virtualization and automation. I really find it hard to believe that VMworld attendees don't care about the network. Our job has always been about data availability and has never been about the servers. Provisioning a server is meaningless if its dependent network and storage resources are not available. Most VMware administrators know this all too well.
High Availability Vendors Leave Mark
Hardware has long tended to be more reliable than the software that runs on it. That being said, while organizations appreciate the added availability provided by products such as VMware HA or Virtual Iron LiveRecovery, automated recovery from hardware failure is not enough. Today's organizations also long for virtual machine failover that's triggered by both application and OS failures. Several vendors have stepped up to fill the void of failover in response to application or OS failure, and the following companies in the HA space made considerable noise at VMworld: SteelEye, Marathon Technologies, Scalent Systems, and Platform Computing.
Startups Turn up the Heat on Thin Clients
Pano Logic was busy showing off their innovative thin client in the Solutions Exchange. By far, my favorite feature is its "Pano Button," which I like to call the "Easy Button." If a user experiences a problem, all that he or she needs to do is push the thin client's only button, select the recover option, and the thin client's associated virtual machine image is automatically reverted to its last good snapshot and the user's environment is recovered. Assuming that all critical data lives on a network share, Pano's recovery approach allows users to recover their own systems without help desk intervention and without data loss.
I asked another thin client vendor about adding a similar feature to their portfolio and the response I received was surprising - "Why should users just push a button to recover their VM when they can call the help desk?" For the time being, I have placed that vendor in my "Don't Get It" category.
Coming Out Party
To me, VMworld 2007 marked the coming out party for enterprise virtualization. x86 virtualization's past, present, and future were clearly on display. For IT architects, the challenge is clear - hedge your bets on virtualization's future and align today's technology decisions based on those assumptions. My future data center has the following traits:
- Is managed by system administrators that focus on business value supported by applications - IT as a service
- Utilizes standards-based management
- Supports all virtual machines regardless of the platform which packaged them
- Leverages embedded hypervisors or hypervisors that fully reside in memory (as with Virtual Iron) to ensure better security and power efficiency
- Pools hardware resources (server, storage, network) and uses them when needed to meet workload demand and dramatically save on power and cooling
- Includes a management layer capable of provisioning server, storage, and network resources and associated security settings on demand
- Includes rollback technology that empowers users to recover from system or application failures without IT intervention
VMworld showed me the future of server virtualization and data centers. What did it show you?
Posted by: Chris Wolf