VMworld Preview: VMware's Vision of Virtualization as the OS

The annual VMworld user conference gets underway today in Las Vegas, with the event's host betting big on a new strategy that redefines its market-leading virtualization management products. VMware is set to unveil plans to expand its flagship virtualization platform into something resembling an operating system, a new cloud computing initiative and the company's path toward a "universal client vision."

The big announcement is the company's new Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), which expands VMware's Infrastructure product into a new category, commented Bogomil Balansky, VMware's senior director of product marketing, in a pre-conference interview. "The VDC-OS is to the entire datacenter what Windows and Linux are to the individual server," he said.

VDC-OS aggregates all of the hardware in the datacenter -- the server, storage and network components -- into a single, logical resource pool, Balansky explained. And it comes with built-in services for availability, security and scalability.

"I like comparing this with Just-in-Time (JIT) production in manufacturing," he said. "That model is all about using only the right resources at the right time and being very efficient to build high-quality products very quickly and efficiently. This is what VDC-OS is doing on the hardware side. It's taking the different pieces of the datacenter and assembling them into a single big resource and making it available in a very efficient manner to all applications."

How does all this turn a virtualization platform into an OS?

"An operating system does fundamentally two things," Balansky said. "It manages the hardware, and it provides services to applications. This is exactly what this platform does. It manages the hardware by aggregating it and using it in the most efficient way, and it provides services to applications in a new way. But in this case, it's for the entire datacenter, not just the server."

Among those services are VMware Fault Tolerance, through which the company promises zero downtime; a data recovery tool; VMsafe, which provides "X-ray vision" into the virtual machines for virus and malware detection; and a "hot-add" feature, which allows users to add more CPU, memory and network resources to the virtual machine on the fly.

The company plans to add these and other similar services to the VDC-OS throughout 2009.

VMware is also expected to highlight its new vCloud services, through which the company will provide a means of connecting internal datacenters and external service provider offerings into that seamless resource pool. Essentially, vCloud turns the internal datacenter into an "internal cloud," which can also be federated with external clouds. It's a model similar to the datacenters behind Google and Amazon, Balansky added.

A third initiative called vClient takes the company back to its roots on the desktop, said Jerry Chen, VMware's senior director of desktop platforms and solutions. Look for a new branding strategy for all of VMware's desktop products. Its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) offerings will soon be grouped under the new VMware View umbrella.

"Just at the moment when our competitors are starting to get religion on why VDI makes sense, we're ready to change the game again," Chen said. "The future of the desktop isn't about the physical device. It's going to be a combination of your Gmail account, your desktop, your smartphone, your apps -- at the end of the day, this notion of your desktop being tied to a box is antiquated. What customers want is a single view of their desktops from any device and every location."

Of course, the IT managers want a standardized, centralized management capability, Chen added. To provide both, VMware is pursuing the concept of a universal client via the vClient initiative under VMware View. The View product family includes the View Composer, the View Manager and a new client virtualization layer that is purpose-built to run directly on device hardware. "Ultimately, we're going to virtualize all mobile Internet devices," Chen said.

The VMworld event comes on the heels of two big announcements from VMware competitors Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. With great fanfare Microsoft recently announced that it would soon begin offering a standalone version of its Hyper-V hypervisor as a free download. (VMware did the same thing with its ESXi hypervisor in July.) The Redmond software maker also announced plans to release System Center Virtual Machine Manager, which manages both physical and virtual servers, and even VMware's ESX. Sun announced the commercial availability of its xVM Server and xVM Ops Center 2.0, the latest components of its xVM virtualization portfolio.

Mike Neil, Microsoft's general manager of virtualization, was on hand at the Sun product launch. "VMware is in a tough situation," Neil observed, "because they're not an operating system provider. All the operating system providers -- Red Hat, Novell, Sun, Microsoft -- are providing virtualization solutions as part of their offerings. There's no real magic here -- everyone is going to have that capability."

"It's the classic stance of every incumbent," commented Balansky. "Sure, there is competition coming on the market, but we have our foot pressed down on the gas pedal. Our competitors are still desperately trying to emulate our VMotion capability, which 70 percent of our customers use in production, while we're bringing to market something that's even more sophisticated and will have the same kind of ground-breaking impact. We're just offering more interesting and innovative stuff."

"The truth is, Microsoft is the one who is going to have a hard time in this market," Chen added. "Because they are an old-style operating system provider."

VMware isn't the only virtualization vendor debuting products and solutions at this year's show. Among the announcements expected from partners and competitors:

  • Hewlett-Packard is expected to announce new products and services for deploying and managing VMware virtualization environments. HP has partnered with VMware for the past five years.

  • Virtual lab automation vendor VMLogix will introduce StageManager at the show. The company's flagship product, VMLogix LabManager, is designed to automate lab management and integrate with such ALM tools as IBM Rational ClearCase, ClearQuest, Build Forge and HP Quality Center. With StageManager, the company expands that product's footprint from the dev-test lab into staging and production.

  • A company called Reflex Security will demo its virtual management and security solution, Virtualization Management Center (VMC). The company is billing the product as "the first virtualization solution to bring top-level visibility, management and granular control to the next generation virtualized datacenters."

  • Chipmaker AMD will have representatives at show, touting its hardware support for virtualization of every stripe. Look for competitor Intel, as well.

  • Virtualization lifecycle management company Embotics will debut its new, free V-Scout product at the show, and demo its flagship V-Commander 2.0. V-Scout is an "insight tool" designed to give VM administrators "complete and thorough oversight of their virtual environment."

Approximately 14,000 attendees (up from 11,000 last year) are expected at this year's event, which is being staged at The Venetian hotel and runs through Thursday. VMworld 2008 organizers are promising more than 200 sponsors and exhibitors, as well as 300 breakout sessions presented by VMware employees, company partners and customers, and industry analysts. The company is boasting that two of its chief competitors -- Microsoft and Citrix -- will be among the exhibiting companies at this year's show.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].