VMware takes EMC 'beyond virtual servers'

The 21st century software mainframe

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Here's the no-brainer statement of the week: EMC says that it is not going to sell off its stake in virtualization juggernaut VMware.

The disk storage maker and parent company of VMware is hosting its strategic forum for institutional investors - what we might call an analyst conference - in Boston this morning, and EMC's president, chief executive officer, and chairman, Joe Tucci, came right to the point at the beginning of his presentation.

"We have no intention, as I said before, in separating these two companies and separating these two strategies from each other," Tucci said emphatically. "We will get more traction in the market and more opportunity doing what we're doing."

That means keeping VMware relatively independent but still under firm control, as VMware founders Diane Greene (formerly president and chief executive officer) and Mendel Rosenblum (formerly chief technology officer and Greene's husband) found out the hard way last year when Greene was fired and replaced by Microsoft hot-shot Paul Maritz. (Two months later, Rosenblum left the company.)

It also means leveraging EMC's substantial expertise in storage (one of the messier technology issues that have to be coped with in virtualized environments, using EMC's cred inside data centers, and keeping VMware just independent enough to be the de facto, "open" standard for virtualization for servers, PCs, and someday cloud-style private and public pools of infrastructure.

At the conference, Maritz spent an hour walking Wall Street through the company's product plans and strategies at a fairly high level, and with a little more detail than was provided last month at the VMworld Europe conference, here and here. But he also made the case that what VMware was trying to accomplish was something both "important" and "endearing" to the long-term future of information technology, not just about condensing 2,000 physical servers down to 2,000 virtual machines running on 300 or 400 servers, which is the level of compression VMware is delivering today.

"I am told by customers that virtualization is one of the few technologies in the past few decades that has underpromised and overdelivered," Maritz explained. "They wanted to reduce capex [capital expenditures], but they got more. The environment not only got cheaper, but it got more flexible."

The sales pitch for the new vSphere lineup of products coming out this year, which will replace the current ESX Server 3.5 hypervisor for x64 servers and the Virtual Infrastructure 3 lineup of related management tools and add-ons for that hypervisor, is going to be a lot broader than why ESX and its stack is better than XenServer and Hyper-V and their now shared Essentials toolset.

"When I talk to people over 45, I say we're building the software mainframe, the mainframe of the 21st century," Maritz said. "And they get all nostalgic and say that they always knew that this was the right thing to do instead of client/server. And when I talk to people who are under 45, I say that we're building the internal cloud."

The joke is, of course, that it is all the same Virtual Data Center-Operating System (VDC-OS) software that is driving this cloudy x64-based mainframish thingamabob. And if this works, then the joke will be on any vendor that is either trying to sell a non-x64 platform or that thinks they can build a cloudy operating system that can cope with legacy Windows and Linux client/server style applications and their software stacks or new Web 2.0 style apps based on frameworks such as Spring or Ruby on Rails better than VMware can.

"We are going to be the layer that orchestrates resources," Maritz said. "We are not alone, and others are trying to compete with us and to catch up with us. But his is not an easy thing to do. The vSphere development team has nearly 2,000 people. That's bigger than any team I used to ship Windows in the 1990s."

He paused for effect, to let the number and significance of that remark sink in. "There are a handful of companies that can marshal the size and depth of resources to pull this off." And later in his talk, just to give a dig at the open source community when talking about compute clouds as a product, not an architecture, Maritz said that this is not "something that you can cobble together with some open source libraries."

You can see now why Tucci wanted Maritz running VMware. He has dealt with software projects of a size, scope, and import much greater than VMware's previous top brass had ever imagined in their fast rise to glory.

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