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IT Blog Spotlight – David Marshall on Virtualization

Level 9

I recently reached out to virtualization expert David Marshall in the latest of our series of blogger profiles.  In addition to being a really nice guy, David has developed a substantial following through his blog (VMBlog at and content on InfoWorld as well as his books on virtualization.  So let’s get right to the discussion with David.

MT: You probably get this a lot, but how did you get started in IT?

david_marshall_cp.jpg  DM: I'm very much into gadgets and technology, and I've been banging away on computers since around 1978. My first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III... and I was hooked from that point on. Oddly enough, I graduated from college with an accounting and finance degree, and did number crunching and investments for many years before I finally woke up and realized that you could actually make money and do a job that you were passionate about. So I left the financial world to take part in a new startup, an ASP (application service provider -- what we called cloud computing back in 1999). While trying to make the ASP business more profitable, I began experimenting with a new product in 2000 that was in Alpha code called VMware ESX and another Alpha product called Connectix Virtual Server (later acquired by Microsoft). And that was it for me! I was bit by the virtualization bug and never looked back. I helped create the first cross platform (or multi-hypervisor) virtualization management product around 2001, and continued to come up with new and interesting ways to use virtualization technology by starting a few more startup ventures to make those products a reality. It's been a blast! And I'm still working in virtualization 13 years later.

MT: And what made you take the leap to blogging about virtualization?

DM: This is such a fun question. I've talked about this with many people over the years, but I don't know how much I've ever really written about it. The short answer, if there is ever one with me, is that I started out blogging about virtualization because there weren't many people doing it. I started VMblog back in 2004, but that was a different time for virtualization. The technology was really still trying to prove itself, so it didn't really have books or blogs dedicated to it yet, and the user following was NOTHING like it is today.

So why did I start? One of my early startups was focused on server virtualization technology, and I began creating an internal email newsletter of sorts to keep co-workers informed about the technologies, new ways of doing things, and any other updates to the platforms we were working on. Back then, we were focused on VMware ESX, VMware GSX and Microsoft Virtual Server (remember those two platforms?). One of my co-workers told me, "Why don't you start a blog instead, and share that information with other people outside of the company?" That made sense to me, and VMblog was created. During that same time, I also started writing my first published book on the subject, which was a nice tie in to the blog.

MT: Who are your typical readers? What are they looking for from your blog?

DM: My readers come from all walks of life, from around the world, with different titles and backgrounds. But obviously, since the blog site is a niche, dedicated site, they all come for one thing -- virtualization. They are looking for the latest information within cloud computing and virtualization, whether server virtualization, desktop virtualization, or application, storage or network virtualization... or some form of cloud computing that relates to the technology. It's about information, education, events, whitepapers, books, trends, etc. It's about giving access to information and getting people in front of what's important or interesting. While niche, it still cuts across quite a number of technologies, and not everything in there will be for everyone, but it's a good place to start.  And over the years, I've opened it up for others to use it as a platform as well, if they didn't have one for themselves.

MT: After years of writing posts, what kinds of posts tend to be the most popular?

DM: Everything varies if you go by page views alone, and I'm sure it has ups and downs based on timing of when something gets published. But I can say that people pick up on the Q&A articles, and I certainly enjoy them because it's a lot of fun to have an opportunity to speak to someone and ask them questions about their latest announcements, news, products, or whatever. And I've also had a lot of success with my prediction series that I do every year. It's also a lot of fun for me, but I think it gets a lot of reads and people enjoy it because you get to hear directly from various experts and executives from companies both large and small, sometimes stealth or newly launched companies who may not yet have a voice, rather than just hearing from the pundits and analysts of the world as to what the coming trends will be or where they see the market or some specific technology headed the following year. The most recent series has come to a conclusion, but you can check out the 2013 predictions here:

MT: I don’t want to steal too much thunder from that series but can you give us a high level view of what trends you see having the most impact on the virtualization space?

DM: That's a great question, and one that obviously can become a blog post all on its own. But a couple of quick hit things that come to mind include things like:

1. Platform Choice. It's fairly obvious to most people in the industry that VMware is the 800 pound gorilla -- the market leader. And with good reason, they have had the most stable and feature rich hypervisor platform for many years, and had virtually no real competition going back to its beginnings in 2000 when server virtualization was considered IT black magic! But things have changed with the introduction of the latest platform products from folks like Citrix, Red Hat and Oracle. And Microsoft's Hyper-V 3.0 probably is the biggest game changer.  Pundits have been talking about the hypervisor becoming commodity, and that trend into 2013 will become even more apparent. Imagine what the server virtualization market makeup would look like today if folks were just now getting involved with the technology. Hypervisors are closer than ever in feature and functionality, and price is becoming a big factor. Organizations have a real choice now. They don't have to choose between going with VMware or having to settle for something far inferior.

2. Virtualization Management is where it's at. We've seen it play out in 2012, and the trend of focusing on management will continue in 2013. As the hypervisor becomes more and more of a commodity and organizations continue to create hybrid environments, management software and management best practices will become more important to maintain a successful environment. With increased workloads being added into virtual platforms, cross vendor management tools and best practices will become critical to that success.

3. We're going to see the latest buzzword, the software-defined network or SDN, become an extremely important factor in the private and public cloud. As it continues to get defined, hardened, improved upon and accepted, we'll continue to see an emergence of new capabilities and a host of new startups playing in this market. And it will keep the server virtualization market on the cutting edge of things.

MT: What is your favorite SolarWinds product and why?

This is a really funny question, and the folks in the industry who know me already understands why that is... my obvious answer would be, SolarWinds Virtualization Manager.  In large part, because this product is my baby as it made its way to the SolarWinds family of products by way of acquisition from my startup company, Hyper9. 

But since the acquisition, SolarWinds has continued to expand on and improve the product, while still keeping and maintaining the product’s essence, which is why it has been so successful.  This virtualization management product really turned systems management upside down by throwing away the old, boring management paradigm of a tree view interface and moving into the 21st century with a modern, intuitive and scalable management interface that was designed on top of a search engine platform, making it perfect for a transient environment within a virtual datacenter.  And because the interface is widget based, it can change, grow and adapt to whatever the individual needs or wants rather than being forced to use an interface designed by a developer who has never managed a virtual datacenter.  And just like the management component, the built-in reporting and alerting also make use of the search engine design, so it's quick and easy to extend the product to perform custom and shared queries to build new reports and new alerts, without having to wait for a product update from the vendor.  And don't forget about the troubleshooting, change tracking, sprawl detection and capacity planning aspects of the product!  Very powerful, easy to use, and highly scalable.  And it just keeps getting better as SolarWinds continues to build out the product's feature set and update the interface.  I'm no longer associated with the product, but I still highly recommend that people at least try it out.  You guys offer a fully functional 30 day trial, and I think people will really enjoy the different experience that it offers.

MT: Given your experiences, do you recommend other people get into blogging?

DM: Yes, absolutely. IF you have spare time and a passion for whatever it is you want to blog about. To me, those are key. If you aren't passionate about it, it probably won't last very long. Blogging can be very time consuming, but rewarding as well. There are plenty of virtualization focused blogs out there, but current bloggers are always welcoming new bloggers with open arms. It's a great community of people, and I've made a number of good friends because of it. Now, when you go to a tradeshow like VMworld, it's like a reunion of sorts, because we bloggers may chat, talk or Tweet one another over the courser of the year, but it takes an industry event like this to bring us together face-to-face since we are all spread out across this globe... but held together in one common bond by a love of this technology that we all blog about and cover in some shape or form.

Other IT blogger profiles:

Ryan Adzima, The Techvangelist

Bill Brenner, Salted Hash

Tom Hollingsworth, The Networking Nerd

Scott Lowe,

Ivan Pepelnjak, ipSpace

Matt Simmons, Standalone SysAdmin

About the Author
Currently Director of Business Strategy for SolarWinds focused on Virtualization and Storage. Previously worked at IBM and an Austin Startup in product management and strategy.