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Driving VMware

Raghu Raghuram
VMware Inc.'s Raghu Raghuram
Raghu Raghuram figures to have more than a little influence on the direction and shaping of VMware Inc.'s products and services over the next few years. Currently vice president of products and solutions, Raghuram has served in a number of capacities in product management and marketing during his tenure at VMware. He most recently handled the product marketing for VMware's Infrastructure product line.

Before he signed on at VMware, Raghuram worked as a product manager at AOL LLC and Netscape. He holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and a master's degree in electrical engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay.

Raghuram sat down with Redmond Editor Ed Scannell to discuss the differing technical perspectives Microsoft and VMware have on hypervisors, the company's new product announcements at its first European-based VMworld show, and VMware's efforts to balance its Windows and open source-based strategies.

Redmond: What are the major differences between VMware and Microsoft in how each company views hypervisors?
Raghuram: There are some stark differences. Our view is that the core virtualization layer belongs in the hardware. It also has to be much smaller in order to reduce its surface area for attacks. This is why we introduced the 3i architecture, which will become mainstream over the course of this year.

Our product will be less than 32MB, but will still have all the functionality. Our sense is if you turn on the server, you turn on virtualization at the same time. Our approach is similar to that of mainframes and big Unix machines where there's no separate virtualization software as part of the operating system. Our architecture enables this notion of a plug-and-play data center. So, if they need more capacity for the data center, then they just roll in a new server, which is automatically virtualized.

The Microsoft approach is to have virtualization be an adjunct to the OS. With the Virtual Server architecture, it's explicitly a separate layer that relies on the OS. With the Hyper-V architecture, they're still maintaining the same dependency on the OS, so it's not fundamentally different than the Virtual Server in that respect. The downside for customers is the Virtual Server architecture is still tied to a commercial OS, which is fairly vulnerable to attacks and has a big footprint.

Do you see yourself as both an infrastructure and applications company, or will you just focus on infrastructure and let your partners take care of the applications?
We don't see ourselves as an applications vendor. Our job is to help customers get to this vision of running IT as a shared utility. We've taken a big step and still have a lot more innovation left to accomplish. That's a full time job for us. Once you put that in place, there are a lot of things that come about that you can do better and differently. That's frankly not our area of expertise. So there's a lot of opportunity for an entire ecosystem of companies to take advantage of the virtualization fabric, if you will.

How do you see the open source, third-party markets evolving? What sort of emphasis are you placing on Windows versus open source partners to build on top of your infrastructure?
Our infrastructure isn't tied to any one operating system or application, or any hardware platform, for that matter -- other than the x86 -- so we have no agenda attached to our strategy. We can work with proprietary systems, software vendors and open systems vendors very aggressively. With the open source marketplace, we have two different activities. One is what we do with the Linux community, namely contributing code. For example, some of the virtualization improvements that are in the upcoming Linux kernel: we worked along with the rest of the community to make that happen.

The other is in the virtual appliance marketplace. One of the challenges open source software vendors face getting into an enterprise is when an enterprise says, 'We like your functionality and pricing, but how are you going to certify this for all my hardware and support it across all my infrastructure needs and deliver it to me?' The enterprise manageability aspects are a challenge to open source companies. It's not like they can put in an appliance and everything is taken care of automatically. The minute they drop that appliance onto a VMware infrastructure solution, the infrastructure automatically provides them high availability, business continuity and a degree of manageability they didn't have.

Can you talk about the significance of your announcements at the VMworld show in Cannes, France, last month, and how they move your strategies forward?
We've said that virtualization isn't just a solution for providing hardware savings. Fundamentally, it's an architecture for the data center helping users solve problems that previously were very difficult to do. These problems have more to do with how you manage and automate the data center, how you make the data center more secure, and how you make the data center more available and flexible.

We see the data center as a self-managing, flexible utility. This is why we announced a set of automation and management products that make the virtualized environment highly automated, enabling systems administrators to manage a substantially larger number of virtual instances with the resources that they have. Most of our [user] companies are thinking about IT services, not about a single application. It's about a SOA delivering an IT service. The question becomes: How do you take that service through development to testing to staging, to getting it into production and then decommissioning it once it has outlived its lifecycle? And how do you do it with a high degree of predictability to where you're not only doing it correctly, but saving a lot of time and money?

Some of these products also address what you are calling IT Service Continuity. How important is this to your strategy going forward?
Very important. Business continuity is the silver bullet for virtualization beyond consolidation. In fact, two-thirds of all our customers are already trying to do business continuity using virtualization. These [products are] designed to automate all processes so that if your data center fails, you can automatically failover to another data center and then fail back. One of the interesting things about business continuity is because it's so complex to do, people have business continuity plans on paper, but they are hardly ever tested. The products we announced enable the automated testing of those sorts of plans.

How much competition are you facing in these markets?
I believe this is where we're breaking new ground. One of our advantages in the marketplace is we're now on our third generation of our core virtualization architecture -- the hypervisor. We have the ability to build on top of it. Our focus is not just on the hypervisor, but on how we can use virtualization to solve all these persistent problems in the data center. So we're free to venture into areas like business continuity and data center automation because we already have a robust foundation.

How important a focus is security for VMware over the short term?
This was also a focus of our recent announcements. We have done things in a virtual environment that were not possible in a physical environment. Previous to our VMotion product, it wasn't possible to take a running application and move it from one physical box to another. So one of the areas we can bring that to bear is in security. Our VMsafe architecture is a set of open APIs that all security vendors can use to build solutions that solve security problems that are hard to do in a physical world. For example, things like detecting types of malware that are hard to detect in a physical world. One of the problems malware-detection programs face is they live in the same address space as the malware itself. Hackers figure out what sort of malware detection programs are running, and then disable them and go about their merry way of causing destruction. With VMsafe, malware detection can move out of the OS and application address space. It can look into what's happening inside the virtual machine. We can't detect this, but [we can] reach in and turn off the malware.

VMware didn't quite meet Wall Street's expectations for revenues in the last quarter. Has this caused you to rethink some of your pricing structures?
Customers still find pretty high ROI on our products, so we've not seen any change in how customers view us from a cost-benefit perspective. Having said that, we have a rich product lineup, which goes from a $500 hypervisor to a $1,000 VMware infrastructure offering to a $3,000 VMware infrastructure offering to a $5,000 offering. We have a full spectrum of products at various price points and capabilities. We think we're serving all points in the marketplace already.

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