As VMworld turns

VMware is running into capacity issues.

The company which hasbecome known for helping companies to get more out of the space intheir servers is quickly running out of space at VMworld, its annualuser conference here in San Francisco. The rough estimate is that10,000 people were coming here. In the keynote, the COO suggested itwas more like 12-15,000. I haven’t been to one of these events in along time, but it reminds me of the last boom period, with almost nochairs available in many of the lounge areas.

“There are a lotof people here,” Strategic Counsel analyst Warren Shiau commented overlunch today. “It’s surprising, especially at a time like this,” headded, referring to the still-recovering economy.

Despitecancellations from Microsoft and Citrix, who have finally realized theyhave little place at a competitor’s show, this feels like an importantinflexion point for VMware, and for virtualization in general. If youfollow Gartner’sHype Cycle, this might be what they call the “slope ofenlightenment” where customers, having been disillusioned about theirinitial attempts to set up virtual IT infrastructure, are ready to tryagain and are coming back with more pointed questions.

Theslogan at this year’s VMworld is “Hello Freedom,” a phrase whichconjures up the user-friendliness of Apple’s early Mac (and then iMac)campaigns, along with a suggestion that a load will be lifted off ITmanagers' shoulders. Certainly this was what VMware CEO Paul Maritzsuggested in his keynote. He referred to an unnamed customer in afinancial services firm, where the policy dictated that no applicationcould go live until a document requesting it had been signed 10 times.This included people within the IT organization responsible forstorage, security, the data centre and so on. Such firms are noweying virtualization, and particularly cloud computing, as a way out,even if they don’t really understand the model. “For them, the cloudwas the absence of those 10 signatures,” Maritz said.

Ofcourse, much of the technology announced at VMworld, including itsvCloudinitiative which would have more service providers take oncloud chores as an offering, would make it easier to put applicationsinto the cloud. I’m not certain, though, that the 10 signatures wouldentirely go away. Policies for virtual or cloud environments have notnecessarily been as clearly defined in many Canadian organizations, atleast based on what vendors and analysts have told me. By trumpetingthe promise of the technology now, however, VMware no doubt hopes tosee more companies prepared to make the jump into computing as aservice in the next year or two.

VMware has a goodvirtualization business going, but to go beyond its one-trick-ponystatus it needs to grow. Its strategy includes desktop virtualization,which many firms are not necessarily pursuing right now, its cloudcomputing work and its acquisition of Springsource. This last bit hasbeen somewhat muddled in with the rest of the announcements at theshow, but it’s a critical piece. If Microsoft can prove it can doeverything VMware can do on the virtualization front, there will beless and less reason to opt for VMware unless there’s a good pricedifferential. If VMware can make a credible case for deployingenterprise Java-based workloads via Springsource, however, it has aninteresting niche. It will be interesting to see to what extent Oraclesupports VMware now that it’s taking on the Java mantle via the SunMicrosystems deal.

All this is to say the gap between thepotential of virtualization and the reality is starting to close, ifnot as quickly as VMware would let on. IT managers may be greeted witha “hello freedom” here, but many of them need to do some more homeworkbefore they’re prepared to kiss complexity goodbye.

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