Barney's Rubble

VMware Wants It All

A completely revamped data center, virtualized servers and networks...it's all part of the VDC-OS plan.

Picture a speech where a CEO holds forth in front of thousands of faithful customers, offering a vision that will utterly transform the way we compute. The press pays earnest attention, spectators applaud and the world awaits the competitive fallout.

Is this just another keynote by Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Eric Schmidt? Nope! Try Paul Maritz, the still relatively new CEO of VMware.

The address happened at VMworld 2008 in Las Vegas, and at times I swore I was at TecháEd, WinHEC, PDC -- or a Springsteen concert. That's how packed it was.

With Hyper-V gnawing at VMware's heels, Maritz went for broke, announcing not just modest improvements to maintain ESX's technical lead, but a grand strategy calling for nothing less than a total revamping of the data center.

The Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS) is not an OS per se. It's a system that aims to manage servers, storage and the network, turning this all into one massive utility or gigantic internal cloud. This isn't the entire data center, but only Intel and AMD servers and the devices attached to them.

On the network side, VMware plans to offer part of the solution and have vendors like Cisco take care of the rest. Likewise, in storage, VMware will work with storage makers -- EMC, anyone? -- to turn all those disks into one, big virtual volume.

Here are some tough questions:

Will it work? The basic idea is sound. A well-designed virtual server coupled with well-designed storage is already pretty close to a utility. The apps are largely on-demand and can be moved easily from server to server without taking them down. The big issue when you magnify this approach is reliability. Redmond readers are the real virtualization pioneers, but many of you complain that virtual machines and virtual servers are not always as reliable as apps on dedicated servers.

What if it does work? If the data center plan works, VMware becomes a monster vendor-one that's every bit as powerful and influential as IBM, HP or Microsoft. That's big.

What could stop it? The sheer complexity of turning hundreds of x86 servers running thousands of apps tied to terabytes of storage and myriad network connections into a single logical system is the very definition of complexity. Add to that trying to secure such a labyrinth and you can see the challenge.

What if it fails? It all depends on the nature of the failure. Microsoft has failed plenty of times and is still a highly trusted provider. Even if VMware doesn't achieve all its goals, it's still a net plus.

Will the VDC-OS work and will you use it? Will another vendor get there first? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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