VMware plays nice with OpenStack, unveils a VMware-powered data-center-in-a-box

Virtualization giant VMware plans to announce Monday that its lineup of tools for the data center will soon be compatible with the OpenStack open source cloud framework. The company will also announce that it is backing new “datacenter-in-a-box” appliances using third-party hardware integrated with VMware’s VSAN and other software, and it rolled out these new products during its morning keynote at VMWorld 2014.

With VMware’s Integrated OpenStack, as the company calls it, organizations that have an OpenStack cloud set up in their backend will be able to have their IT operations staff manage that OpenStack cloud using VMware’s tools. This also means that organizations with data centers and gear running the [company]VMware[/company] stack will be able to easily sync those up with other gear that runs on OpenStack. The new service will be released during the first half of 2015.

VMware with its proprietary software, was seen at odds with the open-source OpenStack movement, but the company’s stance started to change with its 2012 purchase of key OpenStack contributor Nicira, a software defined networking startup. It then became  a Gold Member of the OpenStack foundation.

VMware Integrated OpenStack

VMware Integrated OpenStack

Of course, VMware’s Integrated OpenStack doesn’t necessarily mean that VMware is pushing customers to use  OpenStack. As John Gilmartin, VP and GM of VMware’s software defined data center suite business unit, explained in an interview, while VMware is accommodating customer demand on behalf of developers who are building applications made to scale out across multiple clouds, VMware is still touting its approach to the software defined data center as the way to go.

“OpenStack is a framework, said Gilmartin, “It doesn’t deliver a full out-of-the-box cloud.”

It’s interesting to note that the whole concept of OpenStack from its inception was to provide an alternative to the VMware private cloud and the Amazon public cloud, and VMware’s Integrated OpenStack seems to counter the notion of OpenStack purists who would rather have a private cloud built on top of multiple open source components like Ceph or Swift storage or the KVM hypervisor.

“Yes, there are diehards that exist and that’s fine, but the broader enterprise wants something that works and meets the needs of developers,” said Gilmartin.

VMware & friends launch converged hardware

Regarding the other big VMware announcement on Monday, the long-rumored VMware-certified hyper-converged infrastructure appliance will finally see the light of day during the second-half of 2014, according to Mornay Van Der Walt, VMware’s VP of emerging solutions.

The new project, previously referred to in press reports as Project Mystic and Marvin, is called EVO:Rail, in which the EVO stands for “evolutionary” and the “rail” refers to the literal rail that connects together the various gear of a data center rack. This hardware runs on an array of VMware software from ESX to vSAN to vSphere lets users set up, configure and manage their new appliance.

At its keynote Monday morning, VMware announced its hardware partners for its new EVO:Rail project: Dell, EMC, Fujistsu, Inspur, NetOne and Supermicro.

Additionally, the company announced that it will be testing a cloud-based version of EVO:Rail called EVO:Rack. VMware’s CEO Pat Gelsinger said that VMware will be joining the open compute project and EVO:Rack will be built using OCP hardware.

“VMware is not getting into the hardware biz,” said Van Der Walt. “First and foremost we are a software company. This will be a collaboration with qualified partners who have the right hardware platforms.”

EVO:Rail interface

EVO:Rail interface

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, describes VMware’s project as a simplified software approach to VMware’s take on software defined data centers that’s bundled into hardware and made really easy for administrators to “plug it in and turn it on and get it going.”

If this sounds familiar, that’s because there are several startups like Nutanix, Simplivity and 2014 Structure’s People’s Choice Launchpad winner Nimboxx, that all sell their own data center appliances that contain all the necessary ingredients of compute, storage and networking into one package. While some of those third party bundles started out supporting VMware’s ESX hypervisor, they’ve added support for rival hypervisors likely because they started to see VMware as more a competitor than a partner. The new VMware-certified appliance, naturally, is in the ESX camp.

While VMware’s Van Der Walt acknowledges the similarities between the new appliance and those sold by VMware’s partners, he said that there has been some concern in the industry regarding how new those startups are and their overall longevity in the marketplace. When VMware first pitched the idea to customers, Van Der Walt said, they were excited with the idea and told VMware that it should “have done this long a time ago.”

VMware continues to push a software defined approach to the data center

Clearly, these new machines will not be used to do Google-style workloads but will be most likely used by shops that want to set up a remote office or branch office backend that exists outside their main data centers, said Bowker. The plug-and-play nature of the box coupled with VMware’s simplified and easy to understand virtual desktop interface will essentially validate the software defined approach to leveraging “more off-the-shelf-hardware components,” he said.

“It will shed light that not every data center needs a highly specialized SAN environment,” said Bowker.

According to Chris Wolf, CTO of Americas for VMware, the new converged hardware will also help private cloud providers get “public cloud economies.” VMware’s cloud provider partners can run on EVO:Rail, but they will not be required to do so.

“This gives you our software defined data center as a turnkey appliance and that’s something most senior IT leaders want,” said Wolf.

Gigaom will be at VMworld this week to gauge the audience’s reaction to the news and will update this story once VMware announces its hardware partners who will be making the devices.

This story was updated at 10a.m. PST after VMware announced its hardware partners
Barb Darrow contributed to this report.