5 things VMware must do to fend off Microsoft

5 things VMware must do to fend off Microsoft

2010 will be a crucial year for both VMware and Microsoft

4. Simplify management

Network director John Turner of Brandeis University in Massachusetts loves virtualization -- but he's puzzled by some of its quirks.

Recently, users on virtual machines experienced a major slowdown, and at first Turner's network team couldn't figure out what was going on. It turned out all of the Windows systems running in VMware virtual machines were set to receive updates at the same time, but VMware's management tools didn't provide notice that this was going to occur or that it might cause strain on storage and other systems.

The problem, he says, is that VMware makes it very easy to deploy virtual machines in large quantities -- an issue often referred to as "VM sprawl" -- but it's not easy to diagnose potential performance problems before they occur.

"From a performance or tuning perspective, as folks grow their VMware installations they're running into issues," Turner says. It's not that VMware doesn't provide diagnostics tools, it's just that they're only good if you're an expert in using them, he says.

"Either VMware needs to prevent you from growing to the point of that kind of installation, or they need to provide very simple diagnostic tools to help you understand what's going on," Turner says.

"Virtualization management is really crucial," says Laura DiDio, lead analyst with Information Technology Intelligence. "Simplifying things with respect to management and interoperability is going to be important."

If Microsoft and Citrix grow significantly in popularity, VMware may also be forced to manage multiple hypervisors. So far, VMware has insisted Microsoft and Citrix aren't used by enough customers to justify the expense of adapting VMware's management tools to multi-hypervisor environments.

Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager is capable of managing virtual machines created both with Microsoft's Hyper-V platform and VMware's ESX hypervisor, and Citrix provides management capabilities for both Citrix XenServer and Hyper-V.

Analysts say many data center pros are installing multiple hypervisors, rather than VMware only. If this trend continues, the willingness of Microsoft and Citrix to manage multiple types of virtualization platforms may give them a leg up.

VMware has built up a long list of partners to enhance its own technology, but so has Microsoft, Wolf says. Switching workloads from Citrix to Hyper-V is also easier than switching workloads from VMware to a competing platform, he says. That's because VMware is the only vendor using the Virtual Machine Disk Format, rather than Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk format, according to Wolf.

"In the big picture, Microsoft is going after VMware with a -- dare I say it -- more open platform," he says.

According to Balkansky, the disk format and multi-hypervisor management issues are low on the list of customer concerns.

Balkansky says he recently spent a week meeting with customers and "those questions didn't come up a single time in a week of customer visits. … What does come up is, as customers deepen and extend the virtualization footprint, there is a need to manage that extensive virtual footprint in a more scalable, automated and disciplined fashion."

5. Don't overhype the cloud

Nearly every IT vendor is hopping on the "cloud computing" bandwagon, attaching the word cloud to any product that might remotely be related to cloud computing. VMware has made some not-so-subtle shifts in this direction, calling its main virtualization platform a "cloud operating system." And while VMware used to refer to itself as "the global leader in virtualization solutions from the desktop to the data center," the company now calls itself "the global leader in virtualization solutions from the desktop through the datacenter and to the cloud." The expansive title appears in the first sentence of every press release VMware issues these days.

VMware's marketing also focuses heavily on its "vCloud" program, which seeks to build a lineup of partners that offer cloud computing services based on the VMware hypervisor.

By pushing public cloud services -- that is, on-demand computing services delivered to customers from remote data centers -- VMware risks losing sight of its core goal of helping customers build out their internal data centers, Wolf says.

"They've spent a lot of time harping on the public cloud, but the typical organization today is building out a private cloud and looking at IT automation internally, as opposed to putting corporate assets on the Internet," Wolf says.

DiDio adds that "I don't think there will be this stampede to the cloud. However, there are a lot of organizations looking at implementing private clouds. Clearly, cloud computing and virtualization go hand in hand. Anything VMware can do to help train customers and send out an explicit message helps."

Balkansky says VMware is trying to help customers build internal cloud networks that connect seamlessly to public clouds, but says VMware is still making the private data center its main focus.

"We haven't taken our eye off the ball by any means," Balkansky says. "First and foremost, our goal is to help customers build a private cloud."

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