by Chris Wolf

Opinion: Key Virtualization Advances from VMworld Europe 2009

Mar 05, 20098 mins

You didn't make it to VMworld Europe in Cannes? Virtualization guru Chris Wolf of the Burton Group explains the key news, from servers to desktops to security, plus shares his take on what it really means to VMware shops.

VMworld Europe 2009, in my opinion, was one of the most significant virtualization conferences to date. The show featured several major vendor announcements, along with substantial buzz around VMware’s forthcoming vSphere (previously called VMware Virtual Infrastructure) product release and Cisco’s Nexus 1000V virtual switch. Citrix announced a free version of the XenServer Enterprise platform, along with its new Citrix Essentials product. Burton Group contributed to the excitement by announcing a complete set of evaluation criteria for enterprise-class hypervisors used in production environments, along with vendor scorecards for VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, and Virtual Iron. The evaluation criteria are organized as required, preferred, and optional features. Hypervisors must meet 100 percent of the required criteria in order to be considered enterprise production-ready.

I’m going to start with the Burton Group announcement, and then move on to my broader take on VMworld Europe as a whole. The details of our announcement were covered in Kevin Fogarty’s CIO article “Virtualization Wars Heat Up Again.” The bottom line—only VMware’s VI 3.5 platform met 100 percent of Burton Group’s required enterprise production-class hypervisor features, meaning that it is the only hypervisor we will recommend for enterprise production workloads today. As other hypervisors meet 100% of our requisite features, we will add them to our recommendation list as well, but give preference to hypervisors that meet the highest degree of our preferred criteria.

Both Microsoft and VMware have come forward and made statements in favor of the evaluation criteria.

“Burton Group is the first technology analyst firm to arm customers with an in-depth list of criteria for evaluating virtualization software,” said VMware’s Bogomil Balkansky, VP of Product Marketing. “This analysis shows the depth and breadth of Burton Group research expertise, and their ability to deliver substantial value to customers.”

Microsoft’s Patrick O’Rourke, group product manager – Windows infrastructure, made the following statement on my personal blog: “As was the case with my colleagues, we thought Burton’s report was a fair representation of the primary commercial hypervisors available to customers. And as we discussed last week, we aim to prove that our collaboration with Citrix, Novell and Red Hat, as well as new features in WS08 R2 and SCVMM r2, will improve Microsoft’s position in Burton’s report.”

Server virtualization is a core infrastructure technology, and as such, requires a long term commitment. With that in mind, it’s critical for enterprises to set a bar on what’s acceptable for enterprise-class virtualization hypervisors, and IT decision makers should not allow vendors to talk them out of requiring critical hypervisor features for their virtual infrastructure. Also, while the hypervisor is important, the management and vendor ecosystem that integrates with the hypervisor is vital to any virtualization architecture’s long term sustainability.

Competition among hypervisor vendors was certainly a key theme at VMworld Europe 2009, but additional news and announcements surfaced that may have an immediate impact on virtualization purchasing and planning decisions.

Let’s start with the public cloud. VMware CEO Paul Maritz’s opening keynote showcased several public cloud service providers, each with unique integration with VMware’s Virtual Infrastructure platform. The techies in the audience were wowed by the seamless integration (you can deploy a new VM on external public infrastructure in minutes), but the IT decision makers were once again left asking the question “What about security and compliance?” Many enterprises will not consider any form of public shared out of concerns with ensuring security and regulatory compliance. I asked a senior executive with a major virtualization software vendor about why service providers are shying away from questions regarding compliance, and his statement was “I don’t know if there’s a provider that can answer that question.” That is the problem. Providers can wow us with technology all they want, but until there are serious answers to questions of compliance validation, public shared infrastructure services will remain relegated to SMEs that are not bound by regulatory compliance restrictions.

Speaking of security, VMware introduced a forthcoming product, VMware vShield Zones, at the conference as well. The vShield Zones technology, the result of VMware’s fall 2008 BlueLane acquisition, provides security and compliance monitoring and enforcement across the VMware virtual infrastructure. Naturally, VMware’s security software partners quickly responded with new product positioning statements in an effort to convey where they add value to vShield Zones. A year ago at VMworld Europe 2008, the conference floor was abuzz with news of VMware’s Storage VMotion technology, an integrated solution that commoditized live movement of VM data stores across storage arrays. At the time, many storage vendors were left scrambling to reposition their value adds in response to the VMware Storage VMotion technology. Like with storage vendors from a year ago, security vendors are publicly applauding VMware’s latest move, but privately questioning VMware’s transparency around their roadmap and future product decisions. Vendors are continuing to share with me that they see Microsoft as Citrix as far more partner friendly than VMware. In the short term, this is not a huge issue. But long term, VMware must rebuild trust among their partners if they expect to continue to have a strong third party ecosystem around their platform. If the most innovative software companies partner with Microsoft and Citrix out of mistrust of VMware, that will not bode well for VMware long term.

VMware unveiled their latest round of technology innovations in VMware CTO Steve Herrod’s keynote on the second day of the conference. The keynote spent considerable time on forthcoming desktop virtualization features, and included a demonstration of the Teradici PC-over-IP (PCoIP) remote display protocol. I had the opportunity to see how the software PCoIP protocol (currently Alpha code) performs later in the day, and blogged about my experience here. VMware needs a robust remote display protocol in order to compete with Citrix, since the Citrix ICA protocol is the gold standard in remote display rendering. VMware and Teradici’s work is significant in that it allows server-side graphics rendering without the need for a server-side graphics processor. This means that specialized server hardware is not needed to host virtual desktops, and that complex graphics can be rendered to any client endpoint device, regardless of local hardware. This type of technology is needed to deliver the user experience required by today’s information worker, while still providing the hardware independence that we have come to expect in virtualization technologies.

VMware also announced their client-side hypervisor and demonstrated a mobile hypervisor (called Mobile Virtualization Platform [MVP]) on stage for the first time. Both the client and mobile hypervisor will allow users to run multiple virtual images on either their cell phones or laptop systems. In the case of computers, the client hypervisor is of interest to many enterprises because it can allow them to implement a “bring your own computer (BYOC)” program. Offering vouchers that allows employees to purchase their own cell phones (while offloading support to the cell phone providers) has been enormously successful, and many enterprises are looking to enact a similar program around client hypervisors. This will allow employees to purchase their own mobile PC, while saving on support costs by offloading laptop hardware support to the laptop OEM. IT will only be responsible for the virtual corporate image storage on the endpoint device.

Of course, VMware also highlighted forthcoming features in their server virtualization platform as well. It’s clear that VMware is very conscious of IT budget restrictions, and numerous new features highlight reducing virtual infrastructure management TCO. Microsoft has strategically positioned server OS licensing to compel organizations to purchase Windows Server 2008 Data Center Edition licenses (which include the Hyper-V hypervisor) for all virtualization deployments, regardless of hypervisor. This allows Microsoft’s Hyper-V to always yield a lower up front acquisition cost. VMware is focusing on TCO, performance, and consolidation density as a means to hold onto their existing customers, and to attract new customers. So far, VMware’s efforts have paid off. Product features like memory overcommit allow VMware platforms to run considerably more VMs than Microsoft or Citrix platforms; memory overcommit is most advantageous with virtual desktop and applications with low to modest performance requirements. Features such as host profiles streamline new hypervisor deployments. VMware’s partnership with Cisco and resulting Nexus 1000V virtual switch is allowing network administrators to reclaim control of the entire network infrastructure, allowing them to extend physical network infrastructure security, monitoring, and policy enforcement to the virtual infrastructure. New APIs like VMware’s vCloud plug-in simplify accounting and authentication with third party service providers, allowing enterprises to leverage external third party virtual infrastructure when needed with a simple point-and-click interface.

As you can see, from a technology perspective, VMware is continuing to lead with innovation. VMware’s competitors are aggressively targeting VMware software partners, while building a story around lower costs and infrastructure integration (Microsoft’s core virtualization theme). VMware should be very proud of its new technology, but also must focus on what matters most to today’s enterprises — cost reduction through improved operational efficiency. External cloud is a topic of interest for many CIOs, but VMware should continue to focus on leading customers toward automating more IT processes in the internal datacenter (or forthcoming internal cloud). Optimizing internal infrastructure operations pays immediate dividends today, while leveraging external resources will be viable in coming years as clarity is brought to existing compliance concerns. VMware: keep moving forward, but don’t forget to take your software partners with you. They, along with a loyal customer base and top-notch engineers, are your greatest assets.

Chris Wolf is a senior analyst with The Burton Group who follows virtualization and data center issues.