VMware Sets Bold Ambition: Data Center Operating System

VMware CEO Paul Maritz has unfurled a vision of virtualization as the enabler of future, flexible data center management -- the company's response to Microsoft making its Hyper-V hypervisor a cheap feature of the server operating system.
VMware CEO Paul Maritz, in his debut appearance at VMworld in Las Vegas last week, unfurled a vision of virtualization as the enabler of future, flexible data center management. For anyone wondering what VMware's response would be to Microsoft making its Hyper-V hypervisor a cheap feature of the server operating system, this is it.

Instead of creeping quietly in the direction of a virtual data center operating system, VMware is stomping headlong at this goal, with Maritz's newly drawn road map in hand. But it wasn't very specific on when it would deliver most of the elements it laid out--sometime next year--and its system management rivals certainly see the same opportunity.

Don't focus on virtualizing a single server at a time with the operating system. Think instead of a virtual data center OS that covers all servers "as an elastic, shared, self-managing, and self-healing utility," Maritz said in his keynote speech. That's what virtualization enables, and that's what VMware is working on. It was an ambitious--perhaps overreaching--vision for a software company whose charter hasn't previously extended to managing most physical resources inside the data center.

Maritz pointed the audience toward a practical result: With what VMware's promising, IT would be able to allocate computing, memory, and storage resources to applications on a dynamic basis--as it needs them and according to the priorities of the business, not on the old silo-by-silo basis. It's an idea that's been broached before, says Frank Gillett, virtualization analyst at Forrester Research, but VMware is one of the few vendors in a position to bring it about.

Count on the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems to commit their x86 expertise in a similar direction. They already offer pieces of it, such as Sun's hardware and virtualized server software management system, Ops Center, but none of them has committed to building a virtual data center operating system.

Maritz goes big
The problem for VMware is opposite of the one faced by system management vendors BMC, CA, HP, and IBM Tivoli, which must adapt their systems to provide deeper understanding of virtual servers. VMware can only see virtualized x86 machines, not Unix and mainframe physical resources, leaving islands of isolation in its vision of a future data center operating system. Still, with many IT organizations relying on x86 multicore server power, a substantial share of the future data center falls within VMware's aspirations.

For example, VMware promises to give its virtual machine management system the ability to add CPUs and memory and to set network access for a running VM. VMDirectPath will provide greater network and storage I/O performance for transactional applications.

Virtualization In Depth
For a PDF of these articles and additional analysis of virutalization news coming out around VMworld
Maritz said the data center of the future won't configure physical servers for particular applications. Instead, the application will be bundled with its fully configured operating system into a virtual appliance. VMware will generate vApps from existing applications using the Open Virtual Format, which it proposed shortly after Citrix Systems, owner of XenSource, and Microsoft threatened to establish a broad-based, de facto standard around Microsoft's VHD format. (For more on standards, see Tame That VM Sprawl)

Virtual machine authoring and configuration tool vStudio will let companies build vApps and deploy them as a single entity.

In addition, Maritz promised VMware Infrastructure vServices will pool on-premises resources and federate them, when needed, with external computing clouds. The goal is to make virtual resources more elastic and tie in outside resources as needed. VServices also will include cloud-specific vServices, such as connecting the internal data center with a cloud resource.

VMware also cited the following upcoming products on its road map for the virtual data center: vCenter ConfigControl will take policy-based controls on configuration management and extend them across the virtual data center; vCenter CapacityIQ will monitor existing VM capacity and add capacity to maintain virtual machines of the right size; and vCenter Chargeback will allow automated tracking of resource use and associated costs, to give managers visibility into operational costs.

VCenter Orchestrator will generate a workflow to automate operational tasks through drag-and-drop interactions, eliminating the need to write scripts that start, stop, or link together applications; vCenter AppSpeed will monitor application response times to users and trigger remedial measures, such as spinning up a new virtual machine, when a bottleneck is spotted.

VMware has an ambitious road map, one that asks tough questions about how the virtualized data center will be managed and what resources it will tap and control. "The answers they're coming up with," says Forrester's Gillett, "say VMware is about more than just virtualization."

Editor's Choice
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author