In my first VMWorld blog I asked the question “Will it be all about the Cloud again this year?” From the first day of sessions and my take on the General session topic this morning I think we have an initial answer – while cloud hasn’t gone away, “software-defined” seems to be the focus from VMware. VMware is already all about software defined computing with all their virtual computing capabilities but it seems the Nicira acquisition has them thinking about “software defined” everything. Nicira moves them in the direction of abstracting networking capabilities from the hardware to the software layer. They are also looking talking about “software-defined storage” as well. Basically, VMware’s goal is to control all of the major infrastructure components of a data center.
This also represents a shift back from the “cloud will rule the datacenter” message that VMware has given in the past. In reality this makes sense. Cloud is a great concept but the implementation of real on-demand clouds is difficult. It is not just about being able to automatically deploy another VM. This shift could be seen as a tacit acknowledgement that there is still a lot of work to do to be able to effectively deploy all the services and capabilities required to run a data center with an on-demand cloud approach. This is especially true when there are still hardware components that require configuration and management. So the focus on software-defined infrastructure capabilities makes sense in a journey toward the more advanced automation that real cloud implementations require. Cloud automation clearly exists today but it either requires some very heavy lifting to do full automation of the provisioning and configuration activities or you have to compromise on the scope and flexibility of your cloud (e.g., use predefined vLAN IP addresses, preconfigure and assign storage, etc.). By first working on extracting the operational tasks for each of the infrastructure components to a software layer, you take the first step to really facilitating the automated deployment of those resources. While being a more incremental step towards full deployment and monitoring of the cloud, it also is an acknowledgement that the path may be longer than originally advertised.
The second major point to all this is that VMware’s clear goal is to own all of the underlying infrastructure components of a datacenter. That is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. On the thrilling side, VMware has enough execution muscle power that people in the industry have to take them seriously. That is likely to drive many of the current players who make their living in the spaces VMware is targeting (e.g., networking, firewalls, storage, etc.) to accelerate activities that provide an alternative to VMware controlled abstraction of those infrastructure components. At the same time, the idea of one vendor that abstracts and controls compute, networking and storage is a scary concept. If you didn’t like the level of control Microsoft had with its operating system, just imagine what that would be like.