VMware’s July 2011 “monster” announcement provides enterprise-class incremental improvements for customers who want to virtualize deeper into the application portfolio and bring in more business and even some mission-critical apps. Better storage integration will simplify I/O management and improve the lives of VMware admins considerably.
The announcement also provides excellent new capabilities for smaller customers who will make the platform more attractive for entry-level clients. Missing from the announcement are more complete capabilities that will satisfy the most demanding applications and CIO concerns about hybrid cloud viability. Specifically, while VMware made moves in the areas of security and management and has placed considerable emphasis on service provider partnerships, more work needs to be done to make the enterprise cloud a fully trusted, agile, and an economically viable solution.
The Software Mainframe
In 2009, at a financial analyst conference, VMware’s CEO Paul Maritz said that he had 2,000 engineers working on developing a “Software Mainframe.” At the time, the Wikibon community thought that was an outlandishly ambitious task and an enormous bet. After all, a mainframe is designed to be highly scalable, never go down, and provide a trusted and secure platform. Could a hypervisor company, run by a former Microsoft executive deliver on this vision? If so, we believed, VMware would become the next IT company to command a $100B valuation on the market.
Yesterday, on July 12, 2011, VMware unleashed a huge announcement spanning hypervisor to policy management engine and hundreds of capabilities in between. According to Steve Herrod, VMware’s CTO, developing these advances entailed:
- One million engineering person hours,
- Hundreds of announced functional capabilities,
- Two million hours of QA and testing.
Maritz said that this was VMware’s next step in the journey to bring automation to IT infrastructure. Maritz cited two major changes in the industry:
- A change in architecture – what many call “cloud” – in an effort to reduce complexity, simplify infrastructure, make systems more dependable, and automate IT; and
- A change in end user devices - specifically referring to the eclectic mix of consumer and digital devices that users have, often not even owned by the corporation.
Maritz sees these two worlds coming together and asserted that VMware was building a new platform that could service both legacy applications in the enterprise and a new, emerging breed of apps for consumers.
Characterizing the VMware offering, Maritz used the analogy of a Microsoft office suite. Maritz spent 15 years at Microsoft and said at the time, with Office, Microsoft was building a suite of productivity tools for white collar workers. Today, claimed Maritz, VMware is building the world’s first “cloud infrastructure suite.”
At the July 12, 2011 Peer Incite the Wikibon community broke down the announcement and evaluated the degree to which VMware is delivering on its commitment. The community discussed implications for users and advice for CIOs, CTOs, organizational structures, the ecosystem at large and asset management implications.
What was Announced?
VMware announced it’s Cloud Infrastructure Suite (short Wikibon video explanation) comprised of five elements, including:
- vSphere 5.0 – the hypervisor/cloud operating system with significant enhancements in scalability and storage functionality;
- vCenter SRM 5.0 – Site Recovery Manager to enable enterprise customers to automate failback and a native host-based replication product;
- vCenter Operations (not new, announced in February of 2011) – Looks at how organizations can operationalize hybrid cloud infrastructure – moving data from internal to external clouds;
- vShield 5.0 – bringing new security enhancements to VMware;
- vCloud Director 1.5 – allows for fast provisioning using a feature called Linked Clones and providing self-service and policy management for VMware customers.
Breaking Down the Announcement
Users should view this announcement in four broad segments:
- Offerings for smaller businesses: VMware is making the low end more cost-competitive by reducing the size of the kernel and providing a thinner, simpler version that competes more effectively with Hyper-V. The ability to consolidate and share server-attached storage is particularly attractive.
- Capabilities for existing VMware customers who want to drive VMware deeper into the application portfolio: VMware has accomplished this by increasing the number of resources supported (i.e. memory, storage, CPUs, etc.) and scaling the architecture. While it doesn’t resolve all the challenges of virtualizing mission critical apps such as Oracle, it does address many hardware constraints.
- A high-availability component with SRM 5.0 that automates not only system failover but also failback (one of the missing components of VMware’s integrated stack previously). This is critical for customers as often failing over to a new site injects substantial business and organizational disruption that can be minimized with failback.
- Security – a means of approaching security in logical versus physical terms.
Practitioners on the call, including Dave Welch of consultancy House of Brick, added that the suite is extremely impressive with vCloud Director’s Linked Clones being a highlight of the announcement contributing to faster deployment. SRM failback was also noted as an impressive capability and users especially liked the concept of a bundled enterprise offering that is comprehensive in nature.
The vision put forth by Maritz included the notion of ‘sliding’ applications from on-premise private clouds to external public clouds, while compelling is incomplete from a product perspective. The major gaps from a product standpoint, according to the Wikibon assessment, are in security and management.
Specifically, virtualization increases the number of entities that have to be protected from each other within the system (i.e. “nosy neighbors”). These include LUNs, memory resources, network ports, controllers, VMs, etc. The more entities you have, the more boundaries need monitoring and the more data is created to monitor boundaries. This dramatically increases complexity, and VMware security today simply hasn’t yet achieved mainframe-like status.
On the management side of the house, the tools for VMware still don’t provide application service level performance – management today is done at the VM and storage levels. If the number of apps being managed gets too large, users will get hot spots, which means you’ve got to constrain the number of apps under management. While this can be addressed by creating multiple vCenters with like apps (in separate silos), this brute force approach is less efficient with VMware than with a mainframe. As the number of choices and permutations increases, management overhead goes up, especially as it relates to the amount of code required to perform recovery. For example, in MVS, IBM’s mainframe OS, every module had two development teams, one for the functional code, one for recovery. That’s expensive – but effective.
Nonetheless, VMware is well on the way to achieving Maritz’ vision. Today, more virtual servers ship than physical machines. By the end of 2011, according to IDC and Gartner, 50% of all x/86 workloads will be virtualized. Less than 15 years after it’s founding, VMware runs nearly half of the workloads on the most popular platform (Intel x/86). Only the IBM 370 mainframe and the x/86 processor itself can claim such a rapid ascension in the world of the commercial enterprise.
New Licensing Causes Heartburn for Some
VMware announced new licensing as part of vSphere 5.0. It is a “pay-by-the-drink” licensing model that, according to VMware, shifts the emphasis in pricing off of physical resources (e.g. CPUs and cores) to a logical view (i.e. virtual pooled RAM – vRAM -consumed by VMs). Each vSphere 5.0 CPU license includes a specific amount of vRAM or memory configured to virtual machines, depending on edition – Standard, Enterprise or Enterprise Plus.
As Jeff Kelly writes this week in his CIO Actions research note:
Entitlements per CPU license in vSphere 5.0 Standard edition is 24 GB per vRam, with up to eight vRams, for a total pooled vRam capacity of 192 GB. Total pooled vRam can be spread across any number of servers, giving CIOs significantly more flexibility than the vSphere 4.x licensing model. At $995 per license, total costs in this scenario reach $7,960, slightly more than one would pay under the old licensing model.
Wikibon believes that in most cases the increase in price is worth the improved flexibility the new licensing model provides. However, if the numbers simply don’t add up, enterprises running vSphere 4.x should postpone upgrading to v5.0 until the economics make sense or negotiate heavily based on the organizational impact.
The bottom line is each client must do the math – some will be better off, some won’t but it doesn’t appear that VMware is attempting to make sweeping pricing increases across the board. Specifically, on balance, we believe that a move toward usage-based pricing, especially for those organizations with chargeback models in place, is the right move for VMware, as it’s the model for cloud computing.
Nonetheless, VMware did a poor job of communicating this change and created unnecessary angst in the user base. Users should insist that VMware provide tools to evaluate the impact comparing ‘as-is’ pricing with 5.0 fees.
Can VMware Compete with the Big Public Cloud Players?
Amazon EC2 and S3 changed the world of cloud computing. Google with App Engine and Microsoft Azure all offer resources for developers to leverage the cloud. Apple with its iCloud and Facebook are also big players. VMware is unique in that it is working with service providers such as CSC, Accenture, Verizon, and others so that customers can access compute and storage in a pay-as-you-go model.
VMware also is pushing the notion of hybrid clouds and specifically talks about ‘sliding’ applications from private to public clouds and back. The problem is that often data needs to go with applications, and moving large amounts of data across networks takes a long time. The other issue is that data centers have numerous applications that are interlinked—i.e. applications feed data to each other, which can add complexity and reduce feasibility for the hybrid cloud notion.
Users should ensure that applications that are ‘slid’ are appropriate for this use case – these include Web, some collaborative apps and certain less data-intensive apps. Over time this concept will catch on. However today, CIOs have many questions about the idea. Specifically, these concerns span from economic uncertainties (i.e. can hybrid clouds really cut costs) to organizational nuances (i.e. what roles and responsibilities will emerge) security and policy concerns, etc. CIOs should push service providers for answers to these questions and ensure proof points are in place before rushing forth to adoption.
Despite these concerns, VMware is unique in its positioning relative to the big cloud players, and its value proposition is a secure, enterprise-class, cost effective, high velocity experience where infrastructure is much simpler to manage and can meet the demands of enterprise customers. Users should proceed with caution with respect to VMware’s hybrid cloud vision as security and management are not fully baked to support the “software mainframe.”
Action Item: VMware’s July 2011 announcement offers many enhancements for existing VMware customers, particularly in the area of hardware scaling and storage simplification. These features will support the continued adoption of more mission-critical apps within the data center. Additionally, SMBs will be well served by increased competition at the low end via VMware enhancements. Users should carefully evaluate new licensing impacts and in those cases where costs are reduced, organizations should aggressively adopt the new function in vSphere 5.0. In cases where licensing increases costs, users should carefully justify the business value of 5.0 as compared to staying on existing 4.X platforms.
Footnotes: Wikibon Peer Incite: VMware vSphere 5