To Virtualization and Beyond
VMware's Diane Greene is on a quest to make server virtualization ubiquitous.
You can't burn much hotter than VMware Inc. is right now.
Fresh off one of Wall Street's hottest IPOs of 2007, VMware has risen from
an obscure startup evangelizing the relatively novel idea of virtualization
on x86-based systems back in 1998 to a top-tier software powerhouse that has
made virtualization very much a mainstream technology.
The woman largely responsible for putting VMware in the spotlight is Diane
Greene, a co-founder of the company and its president and CEO since its inception.
Greene has grown VMware's revenues to $709 million in 2006, a jump of 83 percent
over the previous year, largely on the strength of its Infrastructure 2 suite
of software, which offers tools to mange several different brands of virtual
machines, as well as its ESX Server and Virtual Server offerings.
While Greene's company has dominated the x86-based virtualization market, it
no longer has that space to itself. Microsoft over the past couple of years
has made it clear it very much wants to play and play hard in the virtualization
space. Redmond is putting a lot of marketing and technology muscle behind its
Virtual Server 2005 release, trying to buy market share with a free version
of its Virtual PC 2007 product, and will include a hypervisor technology, called
Viridian, in its upcoming release of Windows Server 2008. Greene figures to
increasingly fight the virtualization war on two fronts, as VMware continues
to get growing competition from the open source community, most notably from
XenSource Inc. (recently acquired by Citrix Systems Inc.).
Prior to co-founding VMware, Greene, 52, held technical leadership titles at
Silicon Graphics Inc., Tandem Computers and Sybase Inc., and was the CEO of
VXtreme. Greene holds degrees in mechanical engineering, naval architecture
and computer science from the University of Vermont, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively.
Greene sat down with Redmond magazine Editor Ed Scannell to talk about
some of the reasons for the growing industry acceptance of virtualization technologies,
being one of the few companies to successfully fend of Microsoft in a strategically
important market, and the prospect of a thriving third-party market for virtualization.
Redmond: How would you characterize the era we're now entering with
Greene: I would say virtualization has become very much mainstream. In
the late 1960s and early 1970s IBM developed it for mainframes but it kind of
died out. The problem with the x86-based processors has been they were not designed
with virtualization in mind whatsoever. There was research done at Stanford
by some of VMware's founders around the idea that virtualization could gain
isolation for mainstream applications. That's why we founded VMware, really,
to bring that to industry-standard systems. I think we invented some important
modernizations that allowed virtualization to work on industry-standard systems
by taking advantage of the extensive support for distributed computing. When
we introduced it, we did so as a way to run Linux on Windows in order to get
a lot of people to start using it on the desktop. Then, as we started partnering
with the server vendors, IBM in particular, they had some large servers where
the partitioning aspect of virtualization allowed them to deliver compelling
solutions to customers and so server consolidation took off. It has now moved
well beyond that to where people see the power of virtualization to the degree
it's causing an entire industry refresh. You can do all sorts of systems infrastructure
functionality in a new and more powerful way.
How soon before we get to the point where we have virtualization for
Virtualization is definitely headed toward ubiquity. At VMworld [in September]
we announced our embedded hypervisor, the ESX3i, and many of the major x86-based
hardware vendors announced they will ship servers with an embedded ESX server
in them. Anything that's virtualized has more flexibility, better utilization,
and stronger reliability and security properties. I'd say there's still some
hardware-assist work to be done. We estimate that about 90 percent of applications
today belong in virtual machines. Once the final hardware assist is there from
the processor and peripheral vendors, all applications will run in virtual machines.
What it gives you is this single way to manage your software and manage it completely
separately from your hardware.
There's some industry talk about the eventual emergence of a complete
virtualization system. What's your vision for that?
Once you have a comprehensive virtual infrastructure in place where you buy
servers already virtualization-enabled, where you're running a VMware infrastructure,
then you can have hot-pluggable machines. So if you're running out of capacity
you can add servers and through VMware-or some virtual infrastructure-the system
will automatically detect that you just added new resources and bring them all
online and make them available for applications. With things like our VMotion
technology you can automatically move running applications around. Or if you
want to take something out of the system to service it, the systems will automatically
move the applications off with no interruptions because you have a fully distributed
system infrastructure running. A virtual infrastructure really takes all your
hardware, server storage and network resources and pulls it all together so
you can run it as a single system.
So this idea of hot-pluggable virtualization, how far away are we from
seeing it on a wider-spread basis?
Well it works today and we have many customers running over 50 percent of their
servers with VMware infrastructure. We have some that run it on 100 percent.
You're asking how far away we are from everyone running that sort of virtualized
infrastructure? Well, I tend to be always optimistic about adoption but it always
happens more slowly than you'd expect. It'll be sooner rather than later. I
get nervous about making predictions these days because now they call it 'forward-looking
Do you envision a virtualization software stack emerging around a set
of industry standards?
Absolutely. In fact, I think we're making progress there. We announced right
around VMworld the Open Virtual Machine Format [OVF] that's backed by many hardware
vendors and all the virtualization [software] vendors including Microsoft and
XenSource. So right there is a virtual machine that can be self-describing,
managed and manipulated, and that contains an operating system and applications.
I think this is a big step forward. We work actively with the DMTF [Distributed
Management Task Force Inc.], which is a standards group for APIs, formats and
protocols for virtual-machine management. So in terms of what there will be
for a stack, there's the core virtualization where the hardware will just come
virtualization-enabled. Then you have a full virtual infrastructure that takes
that virtualization layer and exposes it to the software in a way that increases
the reliability, availability, security, capacity and utilization. Then, on
top of that, you'll see vertical solutions like solutions around desktop posting,
virtual desktop infrastructure, or a solution around how to manage, test and
develop through virtualization. What virtualization is making possible is an
ability to truly automate the management of the software.
What's the biggest obstacle to establishing meaningful standards in the
There, too, we're starting to make some really good progress. Any standards
process I've ever seen has a slower pace than the pace of technology innovation
just because it's bringing together a number of different companies all moving
at a different pace with different priorities.
I'll be more direct: How big an obstacle is Microsoft going to be in
terms of setting meaningful standards?
Coming out and backing the OVF standard, I thought, was a big step for them.
We hope to do more and more with Microsoft because it's what our mutual customers
History tells us that Microsoft's inclination will be to bundle as much
virtualization technology into its operating system as it can. In the past this
sort of strategy has served to wipe out whole categories of competitors. What
is to prevent this from happening with virtualization software?
There are a number of reasons why we don't see that happening. First, the last
thing you want to do is bundle virtualization with the operating system. That
just undermines a lot of the value. With virtualization you are virtualizing
the hardware so you want your hardware to come virtualization-enabled. That
hardware will run any virtual machine, and that virtual machine can have any
version of any operating system in it. The application can then choose the optimal
operating system, and you don't have to choose the application based on what
operating system the hardware supports. The other thing is, you don't want to
include an operating system with a hypervisor because the smaller you can make
a piece of code, the more performance, security, scalability and reliability
it will have. If you can make it reliable and secure you don't have patching
issues to deal with.
VMware is one of a handful of companies able to fend Microsoft off in
a strategically important market. How have you been able to do this?
I think it has to do with focusing hard on customer value, working well with
our partners and producing compelling products. We also focused on making sure
everything works very well with Microsoft's software stack. So as well as adding
value to our customers, we add value to the Microsoft stack. The other thing
we've done well is executed. We've consistently brought out major new innovations
year in and year out. So the more of our functionality customers use, the more
money and time they save.
Is coopetition with Microsoft getting easier or more difficult the last
three or four years?
There are parts of Microsoft where I think we have pretty good communication.
Certainly I think there's room for us to improve our relationship.
In what areas?
I think in the areas of mutually giving our customers what they want around
licensing, and customer support, there's more we can do together. I think working
jointly more on open standards, APIs, protocols and formats. I think we could
work more with them around things we could do with the hypervisors and the operating
systems, how we support their applications like Exchange or SQL Server. We have
large numbers of customers running these major Microsoft workloads in our virtual
machines. There's a lot more we can do to help these customers and to the extent
we can do these things together with Microsoft would be great.
In some cases in the past Microsoft hasn't been as forthcoming as it
could have been about things like APIs with ISVs. What's your experience there?
Customers understand what's going on and have become very articulate with Microsoft
that they [Microsoft] need to be more open, and understand that they can't use
arbitrary mechanisms to control the market. I think customers speaking up are
starting to cause some change in how Microsoft approaches working with ISVs.
What has been your strategic approach to open source, and to competitors
We've always worked extremely well with the Linux community. We developed a
paravirtualization interface for how an operating system could run on a hypervisor,
and the same binary could run both on the raw hardware as well as on the hypervisor.
We contributed that to the open source community. In fact, that's pretty much
what Ubuntu Linux is now shipping with. We were pleased with the open source
hypervisor community in that we were able to work with them and get the OVF
standard adopted. I think once software has been around for years and years
and isn't on a steep innovation curve, that's the place for open source.
What's the next big market opportunity for VMware in virtualization?
We have a huge vision of how we can further automate and basically improve how
software is delivered, managed and maintained. That's a pretty broad statement
but we have a number of initiatives around increasing the reliability, the security
and the automation of managing your software.
We're working with ISVs around the virtual appliances area and that's very
exciting. It's a very rich roadmap and it's a roadmap where there's so much
opportunity for all the companies in the tech industry. It's a big opportunity
because it's not often you get this sort of refresh cycle where people are upgrading
their hardware and software; changing the way they manage their software, changing
how they organize their IT because they can now treat the software in such a
How do you see a larger, vibrant, third-party application market for
There will be explosive growth as all the hardware starts becoming virtualized
with virtualized infrastructure. Then, there will be lots of solutions getting
built. I believe at VMworld we had almost 200 people exhibiting their products,
so there obviously is a lot of different ways people are supporting virtualization.
There's a lot of it in the infrastructure space but there are also solutions
around training, hosting and around software lifecycles. There are the virtual
appliances and software being distributed in a virtual appliance, too.
How do you find great young talent for what you're doing there? Is it
easier to attract people now that virtualization technology is well-known?
Certainly, as we have become more visible, it has been easier to find high-caliber
people. As the impact of virtualization grows, really talented people are more
and more interested. We've always been able to attract good people, but the
number of good people we're able to attract has really gone up, which is a wonderful
thing for the company.
Do you prefer to recruit more experienced talent or develop it yourself?
We do both. We have a really strong college intern program and so we work very
closely with the universities. It's great to bring people in as interns and
then they come to enjoy working at VMware and the people here and so we can
bring back the most talented people.
What influence do you think virtualization will have on IT shops more
aggressively adopting green technologies?
Well, power companies like PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric Co.] were the
first to launch a program -- and now there are about 20 other power companies
in the U.S. -- that actually offers rebates if you virtualize because of the
huge power savings. I was recently talking to one of our partners who told me
that they have a major green program and they said the most leveraged way to
go green in your data center is to virtualize. We've estimated that, accumulatively,
something like 7 billion kilowatt hours of power have been saved with our virtualization
software. We estimate that's enough to produce all of New England's power, heating
and cooling for a year. It's very significant and it's something we here feel
really good about.
Any ideas that have come to market from your competitors that you wish
you had thought of first?
There are things people are doing out there that I wish we had. We have so many
more ideas than we can execute on, but we share them with our partners now because
we can't get to them all. We're so immersed in this that we see all kinds of
things to be done. I can't say I've been surprised by anything anybody has done,
but some people are doing really good things, that's for sure.
What's your acquisition strategy for the next few years?
In the case where we're building something and we don't have all the technology
pieces and there's a little startup that has that technology, we'd look into
acquiring them. Where there are solutions being built around VMware infrastructure
that have strong compatibility with what we're doing and that our customers
are asking us to give them, we'd look into the possibilities of acquisition.