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VMware Exploring New Frontiers of Innovation?

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Now that the dust has settled on VMworld 2014, the time has come to ask: What was it all about? And what was the biggest thing to come out of it?

On the first question, what was the big theme — the big message — that VMware was trying to ram down delegates’ throats? And make no mistake, there’s always a big message. Last year it was software-defined data center (SDDC). So what was the theme this year?

Well, things were a little different this time around, and the company was a little more airy-fairy in what it wanted to get across. Virtually SpeakingThere was talk of new frontiers to start.

Which is interesting because while VMware and server virtualization was the “new big thing” half a dozen years ago, they are now very much part of the establishment — the rule rather than the exception.

So it seems that VMware is trying to add a little excitement to its business by implying that it is a great explorer taming the unknown frontier.

Why? It’s hard to say exactly, but in terms of images it’s not a bad one to have. If you look at the operating system market, who is more likely to attract the young bright new innovators: the establishment of Microsoft or Linux with its rebel code?

So VMware as the king of the wild frontier of innovation? It makes a good marketing theme, even if CIOs rarely want to be right at the frontier of innovation. Frontiers, after all, are dangerous places for risk-averse types.

Software-Defined Data Centers Not Taking a Back Seat

All of this is not to say that the SDDC wasn’t a big part of what VMware had to say at VMworld. Of course it was. During the keynote, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger alluded to SDDC a number of times, exhorting delegates to “let go of the hardware-defined data center.”

But what was the biggest thing to come out of VMworld 2014? Evo Rail and Evo Rack perhaps? These are hyperconverged infrastructure appliances that VMware introduced to help customers streamline the deployment and scale-out of Software-Defined Data Center infrastructure. Evo: Rail is designed for smaller organizations, while Evo: Rack is the big brother.

Not that VMware is getting into the hardware business, mind. These are specs — recipes, if you will — for appliances that can be built from a number of pre-integrated hardware configurations ranging from Open Compute Project-based hardware designs to industry-standard OEM servers.

One Platform for Any App

As interesting as this hyperconverged infrastructure is, there was a much more significant announcement at VMworld 2014, though. This was VMware’s “one platform for any app” announcement.

As part of this announcement, VMware said that it is integrating OpenStack cloud controller APIs and Docker containers into the VMware suite. (Remember Docker — we talked about it in this column just last month. Timely or what?)

A special distribution of OpenStack, VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO) will integrate components of OpenStack with vCenter (for compute), NSX (for networking) and Virtual SAN (for storage.)

“What’s fascinating about this is that it wasn’t too long ago that folks were looking at all the hype and all the excitement around open-source technologies as a looming threat for VMware,” Scott Sinclair, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said in a summation of VMworld.

“And with this one move, by not only integrating the APIs, but also creating their own OpenStack distribution, VMWare has turned what was a competitive threat into a strength,” Sinclair continued. “And with this it not only extends their technology, but also the reach of their capabilities.”

This is good for customers because, let’s face it, the vast majority of virtual machines run on a VMware hypervisor. Now they can take advantage of OpenStack if they want to, instead of VMware’s public and private cloud software, without having to migrate their virtual machines to the KVM hypervisor.

And they can continue to manage everything through vCenter and other VMware management software products, which certainly makes life simpler.

And it’s good for VMware, because at a stroke it heads off the open-source threat of OpenStack (and Docker) — as Sinclair points out — while ensuring that VMware management software stays at the heart of things. And that will be vital if VMware’s vision of the SDDC is to succeed.

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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