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What to Expect at VMworld 2013

The annual VMworld conference is taking place next week in San Francisco, and Chris Wolf, research vice president at Gartner, answered some questions on what to expect at this year's event and the outlook on some of VMware's key areas.

Q: What are you expecting from VMworld this year?

A: VMware needs to make the case for its software-defined data center (SDDC) and hybrid cloud initiatives and will try to offer a convincing argument in the keynotes. Thus far, clients and prospects have been underwhelmed with what they have seen from VMware’s hybrid cloud offering. VMware needs to show that it intends to be a serious infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider in order to instill confidence in its customers, partners, and investors. 

VMware has been working tirelessly on simplifying its management portfolio and has hinted at those efforts in previous years. I expect considerable clarity to emerge at this year’s conference. Some longtime partners will likely be upset by some of the moves I expect VMware to make. 

With regards to its end user computing business, VMware has thus far solidified itself as a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) company, and I expect more noise around VDI and desktop as a service (DaaS) at the conference; however, VMware needs to do more to cement its position as a mobility company. Organizations are far more interested in making mobility investments and that needs to be area that VMware should underscore. 

Q: Software-defined seems to be the buzzword heading into VMworld this year. Although software defined networking (SDN) is creating a lot of excitement in data centers, current technology is still relatively immature. What should organizations be looking at to determine if a software-defined strategy is right for them?

A: Look at every major public cloud service provider. The value in each of their stacks is in software – not hardware. This trend will inevitably propagate to enterprise IT. Software-defined data centers and underlying infrastructure is an inevitable part of our future. We’ve been defining servers in software – via virtual machines – for a long time now. In addition, VMware and its partners are now providing the capability to define networks, storage, and security in software as well. The benefit to this architecture is that it makes it far easier to move workloads between data centers or even to new hardware within a data center. The days when hardware maintenance and replacement require application downtime are reaching an end. 

In addition, software-defined infrastructure will make disaster recovery (DR) far easier because there will no longer be hardware dependencies associated with DR. It will also streamline the ability for organizations to move application service stacks between data centers or to public cloud service providers. Many clients I speak to are actively planning additional data center consolidation projects that involve load balancing workloads between data centers. In these emerging architectures, the ability to move workloads between data centers as needed to balance the load between them will also be critical – and will facilitate further demand for software-defined infrastructure. 

Q: Organizations are transitioning to a Web and mobile world, yet many are investing in virtual desktop technology. Others question if the technology is worth the expense and effort. Should organizations invest in virtual desktops or are their IT dollars better spent elsewhere?

A: The answer to this question often depends on the practical long term commitment an organization will have to traditional Windows desktop applications. A highly regulated industry that will be using traditional Windows applications for the next 5-10 years will see a benefit from virtual desktops. The organizations moving quickly to cloud and software as a service (SaaS) apps may not see the same benefit. Many enterprises have BYOD plans in place or are already supporting user personal devices today. When users require Windows applications and a customizable Windows experience, then VDI is a good solution. It can significantly lower backend management costs and associated operating expenses, and can result in lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for desktop workloads. In addition, it promotes a better work/life balance because employees can leave work in the office and finish it at home when necessary. The fact that the work applications and data remain physically secured in the data center is another added benefit. 

Virtual desktops often come at a higher price point than physical desktops. Organizations interested in this technology need to go into it thinking about making a long term commitment of at least 3-5 years to realize the TCO benefits. Otherwise, money is better spent on web and mobile initiatives. 

Q: VMware’s cloud management platform (CMP) solution, vCloud Director (vCD), was its primary offering for the last three years. CMP is an emerging, but already crowded market.  What does VMware need to do to pull away from the crowd?

A: VMware’s 2012 acquisition of DynamicOps set it on a new cloud management path. When we look at the CMP landscape, DynamicOps and BMC CLM have been the two most widely penetrated solutions. VMware now refers to the DynamicOps product as vCloud Automation Center (vCAC) and will have quite a bit to say about it as well as vCD at this year’s conference. 

To pull away from the crowd, VMware needs to continue to provide rich integration with enterprises’ service providers of choice, while also offering seamless management for internally hosted environments. To that end, VMware needs to make it easier to deploy its CMP from a licensing perspective. Organizations still have to license parts of the vCloud suite both from VMware and again from the service provider. What our clients really want is the ability to pay for management software and use it wherever they want such as in their own data centers or to manage workloads in the public cloud. VMware has an opportunity to show leadership by offering simplified licensing, and so far neither VMware nor any major competitor has truly simplified licensing for the cloud. 

VMware also needs to provide as much turnkey integration with backend management systems as possible. Enterprises don’t want to invest heavily in professional services or in writing their own scripts to integrate with management systems such as ticketing and asset management. Instead, they want these integrations to be turnkey right out of the box. 

VMware also needs to have a SaaS based offering for all of its major management components. SaaS-based delivery will allow VMware customers to get new management software features at a quicker pace, similar to what is achievable in the public cloud. Furthermore, for future architectures such as active-active data centers, it will be critical for management and monitoring to reside in the cloud. That can prevent scenarios such as a “split brain” where each data center mistakenly thinks it is fully active and its peer data center is offline.

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