VMworld Gives IT Pros a Look at the Future

By Tony Kontzer

Last week’s VMworld provided some clarity for IT folks who’ve been wondering where the virtualization pioneer was headed next. The answer: into the realm of private and hybrid clouds.

Having blanketed corporate data centers with virtualized servers, VMware came into its 10th annual user conference facing hard questions about where its future growth would come from, how it would recover from a wave of turnover in the executive ranks, and what it got for the $1.3 billion it paid last year for network virtualization startup Nicira.

Although it didn’t offer earth-shaking surprises, the vendor did provide answers to those questions.

The company’s product road map points toward enabling enterprises to virtualize the rest of their infrastructures—most notably networks and storage—as they attempt to establish software-defined data centers. It’s a market that “is clearly significantly larger than virtualized compute,” said Peter Christy, an analyst with 451 Research, via email.

A year into the Pat Gelsinger era, the warm welcome the soft-spoken CEO received indicated that he has a lot of credibility with customers. He apparently knows how to recruit, too, as the company announced on Aug. 26 (the opening day of the conference) that it had named Tony Scott—well-respected veteran of Microsoft, Walt Disney and General Motors—as its CIO.

The technology acquired in the Nicira purchase became the foundation for VMware’s NSX network virtualization platform, which will be available before the end of the year. The company also announced a new virtual storage area network that will be available next year, an immediately available hybrid cloud service, and a new version of its vCloud Suite, which includes beefed-up cloud management capabilities.

The move into network virtualization, in particular, appears to be resonating with customers. Lance Weaver, CTO of GE Appliances & Lighting, was one of three customers who joined Gelsinger on stage during his keynote. Weaver said he was anticipating NSX having a significant impact on the environment he manages.

“As we’ve gotten further into automation, we’ve seen that the network is still in that physical world,” Weaver said. “Virtualization will allow it to deliver the speed that has come on the compute side.”

In a separate session, Matthew Ritchart, cloud and data center operations manager for Healthcare Management Associates, which operates 71 hospitals and 460 clinics in 15 states, said the numerous benefits the company has reaped from its use of vCloud—especially the ability to roll out applications faster—would be amplified by its planned implementation of NSX.

“That would allow us to deploy even faster than we are now,” Ritchart said. “One of the challenges is that we have to wait for the network guys to make changes. We want to get to a place where it’s all easily deployed.”

That kind of future view is precisely what Gelsinger wants VMware to be tapping. “It’s not just about today’s apps,” he said during his keynote. “It’s about setting things up for next-generation apps.”