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VMware: The Great Leveller

VMware is the great leveller. Want to run Windows, Linux, Unix, whatever on the same X86 hardware? No problem. VMware can do that. Why on earth should VMware adopters want to run Hyper-V or XEN or Red Hat's hyper-visor? I could see them doing it to keep VMware honest and its prices down and for specific functionality that VMware doesn't provide, but it probably will in the future. Not for any other reason though.

The more popular, the more ubiquitous VMware becomes, the less relevant will be Microsoft, Red Hat, Novell (SuSE), and XEN. The hypervisor is the data centre high ground and VMware has got more of it than any other supplier. There is a kind of gravitational effect at work here with VMware's popularity and widespread use attracting more suppliers to work with VMware, which attracts more customers to adopt it, which drives VMware to add more features, which....and so the VMware virtuous circle spins around and around.

Paul Maritz knows data centre operators are sick and tired of IT complexity and dealing with multiple suppliers and environments. His company is offering a fix for this. VMware just makes all that mess go away, into an abstracted virtual wonderland, a quarantine for most of the ills an IT director wants treatment for.

We're watching a VMware galaxy form in the data centre space and all the individual product stars are falling into place spinning around, held in VMware's thrall just like stars in a galaxy, imprisoned in their place with no way to break free.

The client:server era gave way to a multi-tier architecture with server sprawl. Unix standardisation failed, and Linux is no more than a worthy competitor to Microsoft in the data centre.

Microsoft software like Exchange and SQL and SharePoint is good but there is server cycle-sucking Windows between it and the hardware. There is the prospect - there surely must be the prospect - of apps being produced which request their previously Windows-delivered resources direct from ESX. Every step in an app's resource consumption stack needs physical host server cycles. Why not minimise the number of steps and have apps run more and more in VMs that have a thin or almost non-existent O/S layer between the app and the VM?

There are exceptions to this coming VMware hegemony. VMware is an X86 phenomenon and has no ability to play on SPARC, POWER, mainframe, and other architectures. IBM mainframe users will be able to sail on, rising effortlessly above the VMware tide, and watching as VMware uses software to bind X86 servers, multiple networking gear and storage into a simulacram of a mainframe. Separate boxes seductively glued together with VMware's software.

VMware is going to become, if this view is right, more important than EMC itself. Storage, after all, is just a place to store data. The important place in the data centre IT hierarchy is where decisions are made, and that is in the servers. When all servers are X86 servers then the supplier of the main server control software, the hypervisor, calls the shots.

The chief executive of that hypervisor company can also expect to call the shots. Maritz is surely the coming guy and EMC could easily become VEMC. Who would have thought that selling add-on external storage could be the start of a path leading to data centre domination?

That's what could be in store and every other supplier with pretensions to be a data centre kingpin better get a strategy for dealing with VMware, because this little puppy could grow to become the biggest data centre canine there has ever been. ®

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