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VMware Closing In on Vision for Software-Defined Data Center

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted March 4, 2013


This month's big virtualization technology news is that VMware is acquiring Virsto, the storage hypervisor maker, for an undisclosed sum.

Virsto's storage hypervisor enables you to manage storage in a heterogeneous manner by virtualizing blocked-based storage systems from the likes of Dell or EMC into one large storage pool.

It also virtualizes storage features, as Torsten Volk, a senior analyst at EMA, explains. "Virsto's storage hypervisor provides truly software-defined storage by abstracting enterprise storage features such as snapshots, thin provisioning, failover, replication, and SSD support from the underlying hardware."

The move doesn't come as a complete surprise: last year this column took a look at Virsto, and back then I said:

Virtually Speaking"The only question mark over Virsto is whether it is likely to continue for long as an independent company: surely Microsoft and VMware must be looking at Virsto and imagining a future in which its software supports only their respective hypervisors."

Well that question has now been answered, and it's VMware that has bagged the Virsto prize.

To understand why VMware took the plunge, you need to go back a year to Interop in March 2012. Back then Steve Herrod, VMware's CTO, blogged about the software-defined data center (SDDC). "We'll simply define an application and all of the resources that it needs, including all of its compute, storage, networking and security needs, then group all of those things together to create a logical application."

"There's work ahead," Herrod continued, "but I see the software-defined datacenter as enabling this dramatic simplification."

At the time, I said: "Keep an eye on VMware. If it makes a significant network virtualization acquisition in the near future, that will be the sign that it indeed intends to dominate the software-defined data center of tomorrow in the same way that it currently dominates the virtualized data center of today."

I highlighted Nicira as a possible acquisition candidate and, sure enough, VMware announced that it was acquiring Nicira in July 2012.

With the network virtualization technology taken care of in Nicira, that left only storage to tackle.

Thus it was perhaps predictable that VMware would make an acquisition to take care of this, and Virsto, as arguably the leading light in this area, was the obvious candidate.

When I suggested that VMware might buy Virsto, I also said that:

"VMware's parent EMC can't exactly be delighted with the idea of a VMware product that starts to commoditize their SANs into products that can be mixed and matched with other vendors' devices."

But it seems EMC is resigned to the idea. In a lengthy and thoughtful blog piece published just after the Virsto acquisition announcement, Chuck Hollis, EMC's global marketing CTO, discussed the inevitability of Virsto-style storage virtualization. EMC will also license Virsto technology from VMware, according to the company. (To be fair, Hollis also says that optimized storage hardware of the type that EMC sells will still be around for quite some time to come. But then he has to say that, doesn't he?)

No one can accuse VMware of being indecisive, and in less than a year the company has spent over a billion dollars acquiring the missing parts it needed to start turning Herrod's software-defined data center vision into reality.

The company has also put clear space between itself and Microsoft: while Hyper-V and the software ecosystem that surrounds it make Microsoft a credible player in the server virtualization space, VMware is now ready to take virtualization to another level entirely.

Now comes the hard part of actually integrating the technology, talent and corporate cultures that VMware has acquired into a working VMware software-defined data center system. It won't be an easy task, but no other company looks to be in a position to offer something similar any time soon.

Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

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