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VMware's vDare: Build more complexity and silos, or virtualize more

You can't avoid the cloud, so Virtzilla says how you manage it will matter

VMworld 2016

VMworld VMware opened its VMworld 2016 conference asking its customers to “Be tomorrow,” a couplet that was introduced at the event's opening keynote with a performance of poetry that felt like the work of a slick self-help spruiker.

But VMware might just be onto something here, because it knows that in not many tomorrows, serious numbers of its customers will start taking things out of their own bit barns and into the cloud. Most have already done so unwittingly, if only because Microsoft's herding them to Office 365.

VMware wants itself and those cloudward moves to succeed, so used the conference to present a pitch that goes like this:

  • Whether you like it or not, your organization will soon use public clouds.
  • Public cloud needs security, predictability, manageability, orchestration and all the stuff you built on-premises using VMware.
  • You could provide those services with new tools and create silos and complexity, or you could extend your use of VMware into the cloud.
  • We dare you to take the more complex and diverse route because that always works out so well ... NOT!

The first new product that supports that pitch isn't startling.

That product is Cloud Foundation, the bundle of vSphere, VSAN and NSX that links the three more tightly than ever and is designed to let you build a fine private cloud that's ready for hybrid cloud duties. Cloud Foundation starts with a proposition of running VMs not many minutes after installation or instantiation, making it a welcome catchup to the experience that's made hyperconverged infrastructure so attractive.

We need to talk about your next SAN

The more profound part of the play is that if you choose to run Cloud Foundation on-premises, you'll need to run it on VSAN “Ready Nodes,” the storage-rich servers that make up virtual SANs. VMware's therefore daring its users to keep running a vanilla SAN that needs its own licensing and management, rather than adopting something more streamlined. Or you can dare to adopt the next wave of server innovation, tell your SAN vendor where they can shove their new-controller-every-three-years business model, and retain VMware as the throat to choke if things go awry.

VMware itself has blurred lines between the hypervisor and storage: CEO Pat Gelsinger told The Register that about half of recent upgrade work to VSAN was actually done to vSphere because the two are now intertwined. Which makes for longer release cycles, explaining why we didn't see a vSphere release at VMworld. Again, a dare: vSphere is now more capable and more integrated, so sure ignore that and just keep on virtualizing servers. Or do more.

VMware's also betting you can build better hybrid clouds on Cloud Foundation, because NSX will let you network workloads across on-premises, public and managed clouds so you can enforce policy and consistency.

Unix wars become cloud wars?

In conversation with El Reg, Guido Appenzeller, VMware's chief technology strategy officer for matters networked, likened public clouds to closed Unix ecosystems. His point is that moving data and workloads from HP-UX to Solaris was doable, but unpleasant. He thinks clouds are the same because each offers distinct APIs.

VMware's therefore daring you, when you take the inevitable cloud plunge, to do it with different APIs and tools. Or to virtualize as much of it as possible so that when auditors ask if you have a consistent security policy spanning Azure, AWS, Google Compute Engine and Salesforce, you can do more than pick your jaw up from the floor.

One wrinkle here is that describing Cross-Cloud, VMware's new multi-cloud wrangler, as a “product” is being kind. Gelsinger told The Register it only left the drawing board nine months ago and will start to deliver revenue in three to four years. It's now going into limited private betas.

But some pieces are emerging. vRealize automation will soon be able to spawn workloads in the public cloud. Cloud Foundation will be part of IBM's VMware cloud, so NSX is already in that cloud and will come to others. There's talk of SaaS versions of NSX, too.

A tall glass of vSphere for all my friends?

VMware's dare continues into cloud-native applications and containers. The company acknowledges that Docker is wildly popular, but suggests you run containers in VMs so you can manage with existing tools and avoid building new silos. For what it is worth, Docker told The Register it likes this idea too because it knows it can't expect users to stand up Docker-only servers now that server virtualization and consolidation is so utterly mainstream.

Gelsinger also points out that it took VMware a decade to build complementary management tools and that Docker may therefore be a little behind. So the dare is to run containers in an immature ecosystem, when VMware lets you run them in a more mature environment. Ditto OpenStack: dare to run it in all its sprawling glory as a new silo, or bring it into VMware's safe embrace.

Most of the above sounds pretty sensible to your correspondent: lots of Reg readers rely on vSphere, know it well and will lack the resources or good reasons to adopt and become adept at new tools. But VMware's also daring you to become more and more dependent on it for more of your technology stack in the tomorrows to come.

Virtzilla's mostly earned the right to ask that of you. The vTax debacle is now five years behind it. Prices remain high, but Gelsinger says he and its products remain well-priced, as shown by Hyper-V being free to acquire but not yet achieving massive success. Gelsinger even likens Hyper-V to a puppy: free to acquire, but needing a lifetime of feeding, grooming and medical attention.

But when you look into a pup's big brown eyes and watch its wagging tail, it can be hard to think logically. And cloud sure is cute. Few can resist it today. Fewer still will be able to tomorrow.

+Comment

Reg columnist Enrico Signoretti has a theory that “VMware is becoming synonymous with legacy.”

He's perfectly entitled to his opinion, of course, but I find that position hard to embrace. NSX is important innovation that VMware is leading. VSAN's quickly come to lead the virtual storage caper. Hyperconverged and converged systems are clearly going to become even more interesting once they offer super-dense non-volatile memory and VMware being tied to Dell Technologies means it will be well-placed to take advantage of what will be a big shift. Clouds are going to need taming. Going all-in on a container ecosystem is surely risky in the early years of a very promising technology.

If it takes a well-pedigreed supplier and continuing to use tools evolved for earlier problems to navigate those looming changes, is that really a bad thing? ®

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