VMworld: Virtualisation takes IT beyond mainframe performance

The VMworld showcase kicked off yesterday with VMware CEO Paul Maritz claiming only virtualisation could deliver the next transformation of IT.

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The VMworld showcase kicked off yesterday with VMware CEO Paul Maritz claiming only virtualisation could deliver the next transformation of IT.

However, his keynote kept casting back to a technology invented in another era -- the mainframe.

Virtualisation, and VMware's vSphere platform in particular, can be thought of as a "software mainframe," used to build a giant computer or cloud that can take care of every IT need, Maritz said.

"We can now really deliver beyond mainframe performance out of the system. Really gargantuan workloads can now be handled out of a VMware cluster," Maritz said.

The VMware CEO claimed that virtualisation is likely the only technology that can strip the complexity out of modern IT, and make datacentres work the way mainframes are supposed to: just add an application, define the availability and characteristics you need, and let it run.

"The reason we [VMware] fundamentally exist is to reduce complexity," Maritz said. "Over half of IT spending is going into keeping the lights on, the trains running and the plumbing working."

Maritz, a former Microsoft executive who replaced VMware co-founder Diane Greene as CEO last year, discussed how VMware's platform has grown from a hypervisor into a more comprehensive "operating system" that handles all the virtual resources in a data center.

"Over 1,500 engineers worked for over two years to release vSphere," Maritz said. "That is a bigger release in terms of man years of work than any of the releases I was involved with for Windows ... in the 1990s. It points out that VMware has become a true platform."

VSphere can deliver more than 350,000 I/O operations per second out of a single cluster, enough to handle the entire transaction processing load of the Visa network, Maritz said.

Naturally, Maritz's keynote focused heavily on how virtualisation is an enabler of cloud computing, both in building internal clouds and in connecting customer data centers to those of external cloud providers.

VMware is moving beyond simply providing virtualisation tools to building a huge partner network of more than 1,000 service providers who use VMware to deliver IT services to customers. Maritz said VMware is also releasing a "vCloud API" and submitting it to the DMTF [Distributed Management Task Force], allowing further integration between customer-run applications and those hosted in the cloud.

VMware wants customers to build a series of "virtual data centers," each tailored to meet different requirements, and then have the ability to move workloads in the virtual datacentres to the infrastructure provided by cloud vendors. Then, all internal and externally hosted workloads can be managed from the same management tool or "pane of glass."

"You will be able to pick up a virtual data center and slide it into an external cloud," Maritz said. "Once having done that, you want to make sure the management looks the same."

While VMware is still the dominant player in the x86 virtualisation market, Maritz did recognise that VMware doesn't make the industry's only hypervisor.

"We believe that virtualisation is the technology to enable" the simplification of IT, Maritz said. "Whether virtualisation comes from VMware or another company, that fact remains."

However, VMware's virtualisation and cloud efforts have been more proprietary than competitors such as Citrix and Microsoft. VMware's management tools work only with the VMware hypervisor, and its cloud initiative depends upon cloud providers using vSphere.

Even though VMware cloud efforts exclude other hypervisors, Maritz did say the industry has to prevent another form of lock-in -- the potential problem that writing applications for one cloud service might preclude the application from running on another.

"If we're not careful the cloud might become the ultimate [Hotel California] where you can check applications into the cloud, but you can't check them out," he said.