Why VMware is going ‘space-age’ with Google and embracing OpenStack

VMware has developed a reputation in some circles as being proprietary and less innovative than it was when the company made server virtualization a household word in the IT space, and it’s trying to change that. Yeah, its bread and butter is still in supporting existing applications on existing virtual infrastructure, but there’s a lot opportunity to make that a much better experience.

Bill Fathers, VMware’s executive vice president and general manager of cloud services, came on the Structure Show podcast this week to explain what [company]VMware[/company] is up to in the cloud computing space and how it’s trying to keep pushing the envelope. Here are some of the better quotes from the interview, but you’ll probably want to listen to the whole thing, including for some rather candid assessments and defenses of the company’s business, and the increasing importance of the network.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/189580709″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Download This Episode

Subscribe in iTunes

The Structure Show RSS Feed

OpenStack out of necessity

“What we’re seeing is a lot of our clients are starting to embrace OpenStack, they almost reach a glass ceiling in terms of how far they can deploy, and that they’re looking for somebody who can (a) take care of the integration with vSphere and (b) provide support,” Fathers said. “And so basically, what we have done, I guess, is become a distributor of OpenStack, created VMware-integrated OpenStack.”

Starting small with vCloud Air

“To some extent, attracting thousands of clients wasn’t really just the objective,” Fathers explained. “The real objective is to secure hundreds of what we call ‘beachhead clients,’ which are clients that are using vCloud Air and seeing genuine value from the compatibility, on-premises and in the vCloud Air . . . and the integration we’ve done, specifically in the networking layer. Pleased to say we have not only now thousands of clients — we aren’t being more precise than that — but I can be precise in saying we have hundreds of beachhead clients.”

When asked whether the cloud business is just complementary to the legacy business, he predicted strong growth over time. “Will [the hybrid cloud] become a multi-billion-dollar business?” he said. “Yeah, probably. I suspect it will.”

The VMware hybrid cloud, in a diagram.

The VMware hybrid cloud, in a diagram.

VMware’s hybrid cloud is about VMware’s hybrid cloud

“I am not spending a second working out how you solve what I think is an unsolvable problem of a client who’s marooned an application in AWS and is desperately trying to get it connected securely back to an on-premises app,” Fathers said.

Partnering with Google is about giving clients the best technology

“We just felt like the Google BigQuery service, coupled with their NoSQL database and the object storage, you’re not going to beat it,” Fathers said. “I mean, it’s space-age. There’s no way you’re going to compete with that.”

And what of all the database and analytics technology VMware and [company]EMC[/company] offloaded as part of their Pivotal spinoff a couple years ago? “I personally haven’t yet parsed how you’d segment the analytic capabilities that Pivotal will offer versus using something like BigQuery,” he said. “My sense is that BigQuery is sort of a space-age, enormously capable service, but you need to conform to its APIs, whereas the Pivotal world I think is far more scoped into customization and you can create your own analytics.” (On a related note, some of those Pivotal services might soon be getting a forced open source facelift.)

Bill Fathers VMware Structure 2014

Bill Fathers at Structure 2014

“Either way,” he added, “both are probably cheaper, candidly, than buying Exadata or HANA.” Exadata is Oracle’s converged server-database-combo and HANA is SAP’s in-memory database that is now the focal point of its next-gen business applications.

Asked whether there might be a way to expand the new relationship with [company]Google[/company] beyond BigQuery and some select services, Fathers said they’re taking it slowly. But … “This could do a long way,” he noted. “They have very complementary offerings, as opposed to competitive, and they actually target an entirely different client base, as well.”

Network integration: A big challenge that “sends clients to sleep”

“If there’s one thing we’ve found [that’s critical to delivering hybrid clouds for clients] . . .it’s the network integration,” Fathers explained. “It’s the biggest problem clients got and they don’t yet know it, and it’s kind of tough to pitch it because they’re not yet aware that the integration challenges of trying to connect your LAN to a public cloud are way harder than people realize. We’re going to have to find a better way of marketing it, basically.”

Pluribus Networks gets $50M to route traffic in the data center

Pluribus Networks, a software-defined networking (SDN) startup, wants to make a case for virtualizing the functions of the switch, and it landed a $50 million series D investment round to help do so, the company said Wednesday. The startup now has $95 million in total funding.

At the core of Pluribus Networks’s technology is its network hypervisor called Netvisor, which acts as a distributed operating system that spans multiple switches throughout the data center. With Netvisor installed in a company’s data center, users can coordinate network traffic by using Netvisor to tether together all of the switch hardware devices and enable the switches to be understood as one big device.

“Every switch literally shares the state and configuration with each other,” said Pluribus Networks founder and CTO Sunay Tripathi.

It’s sort of parallel to what some software defined storage startups like Primary Data are doing. Many of these startups tout technology that links the various storage arrays in a data center so they can be read as one big device that can be configured to better accommodate the needs of an application.

Tripathi said that his startup is different from other SDN startups and those who follow the OpenFlow SDN standard in that while these entities have followed the promise of SDN by “separating the data plane from the control plane,” Pluribus Networks believes that the centralized SDN controller should not be separate from the switch, explained Tripathi.

Pluribus Networks diagram

Pluribus Networks diagram

OpenStack users should be able to connect the OpenStack controller with the Netvisor hypervisor so that when the OpenStack controller calls for the overall system to create a virtual load balancer or similar virtual appliance, “all of that gets extenuated on the switch hypervisors,” he said.

Pluribus Networks also sells hardware appliances in addition to its network hypervisor, but it derives a significant portion of its revenue from the applications it sells on top of its hypervisor that gives users analytics, security and monitoring capabilities through all the networking information that the hypervisor captures.

“These are areas where people don’t mind paying good money,” Tripathi said.

The Palo Alto startups counts [company]Tibco[/company], CloudFlare and Lucera as customers.

Temasek Holdings, a Singapore-based investment company, drove this new founding round along with Ericsson and Newtech along with previous investors New Enterprise Associates, Menlo Ventures, Mohr Davidow Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures.

Virtual desktops don’t replace EMM

A few weeks ago, a Gigaom Research client told me she was “sick of BYOD” and wanted out. She asked me if I thought she could “dump everything and just have employees remote into their desktops when they need to work from the road.”

It’s a compelling question, and timely, too.

In his 2015 end-user computing outlook, Gigaom Research analyst Simon Bramfitt documents the persistent fears that businesses have of BYOD plans along with the growing acceptance of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). It’s tempting to think that the two trends are directly connected: By turning smartphones and tablets into dumb terminals, we combine the redundant connectivity of a mobile device with all the security and manageability of a containerized desktop environment. If your iPad falls into a river, let it float — your data is safe on a server.

And plenty of vendors support VDI as an important component of an enterprise mobility solution. Citrix is  leading in mindshare, with a solid enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform and perhaps the industry’s best-known VDI solution. With AirWatch firmly under its wing, VMware offers a very similar range of features, and Microsoft isn’t far behind. Every week, in fact, I see lots of excitement from vendors about virtualized environments on mobile devices. But we’ve heard barely a peep from IT management — the ones who actually manage mobility programs. So while scrapping mobile app development in favor of delivering general-purpose apps to any device via a virtualized desktop seems like a tempting solution to a mobile headache, it clearly doesn’t stand in as a replacement for a BYOD plan.

In the last two years, I’ve only heard one other client mention an interest in using VDI as an alternative to apps. Here are three reasons why.

Assets still matter

An unlocked top-of-the-line smartphone like an iPhone 6 or a Galaxy 5 costs nearly as much as a laptop, and supporting and configuring that hardware is expensive (particularly if the tech support staff is not familiar with a specific phone model). And even if virtualization solved all security and access problems, tracking, managing and provisioning devices would still be a necessary and resource-consuming evil.

Mobile-device management (MDM) software provides those asset-focused services, and should be a standard deployment for every enterprise. And since most MDM providers already bundle a free or low-cost suite of applications to handle the most common productivity tasks, using those apps is generally much easier (and cheaper) than creating and supporting a virtualization program to connect to desktop apps.

Mobility is about more than the app

 Enterprise mobility isn’t simply about accessing apps on the go. The devices themselves are an integral part of the picture. That includes SMS, voice, location-based services, and the camera, all of which need to be managed and integrated into a system. For example, a sales app might integrate text and email communications with prospects while using GPS to guide reps to a meeting.  Enterprises supporting similar use cases beyond routine productivity  will want to take full advantage of everything a device has to offer through traditional apps.

There are also a number of mobile-specific concerns that rely on device and usage context. Throttling data transfers or disabling certain applications when a user is roaming or over a data cap can be managed fairly easily with EMM tools in traditional mobile settings. Connecting app behavior to device and plan data is much more difficult when the app is running inside a virtualized black box with limited connection to the device.

Mobile apps are different

Successful mobile apps are rarely anything like their desktop counterparts. While a desktop or web app can provide a wide range of choices through menus and expansive screens, a good mobile experience is heavily dependent on context and workflow, providing only the tools a worker needs at that moment to accomplish their current task. And since task switching is particularly difficult on mobile devices, good apps often pull from a number of different sources, mashing up traditional enterprise apps into a unified-but-focused front end.

And building those apps continues to get easier. No-coding platforms allow non-developers to drag-and-drop app components and data sources to create basic business apps. Cross-platform Mobile Application Development Platforms (MADPs) allow developers to write one set of code and deploy it to multiple target platforms.

VDI will certainly play a role in enterprise mobility. Our other client who asked about VDI had a very specific goal in mind. Following an acquisition, he wanted to provide an iOS environment to 500 new sales reps on non-Apple tablets. He needed his new employees to be productive right away, and he didn’t want to replace perfectly good hardware. That’s the kind of use case that’s absolutely perfect for VDI. It’s also a great solution for occasional users who need short-term access to a wide range of office applications and assets. But as a catchall solution, we’re going to have to live with EMM and mobile as we know them. Our devices are too smart to become dumb.

Image courtesy of triloks/iStock.

On Docker, CoreOS, open source and virtualization

In early December, container-specialist Docker was gearing up for its Amsterdam conference and the debut of its new orchestration services and Docker Enterprise product line.

But before Docker co-founder and CTO Solomon Hykes got a chance to board the plane, he got word that operating-system provider [company]CoreOS[/company] announced its own Rocket container technology, which caught the [company]Docker[/company] team off guard, according to Docker CEO Ben Golub in this week’s Structure Show.

“I’ll be the first to say, I think we probably struggled to understand it,” said Golub.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/182147043″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Download This Episode

Subscribe in iTunes

The Structure Show RSS Feed

Let’s clear some misunderstandings

Golub addressed what CoreOS co-founder CEO Alex Polvi told Gigaom on another recent Structure Show and said that there have been “concerns raised about Docker, some of which we think are legitimate, some of which we think are misunderstandings,” especially when it comes to the notion that Docker is “bloated” (Polvi’s word choice) and is offering a container technology that comes packaged with features users may not want.

“I don’t believe that if people take a look at what we have that we are forcing people to use our orchestration or that we are being monolithic in terms of the lower-level container format that we support.”

Regarding the new orchestration APIs the Docker team rolled out, Golub said that users don’t have to use those features and that “you can swap out the batteries” if you don’t want them or want to use another similar service. The standard Docker container still exists, he said.

“We were a little confused by that messaging because if you just want to use Docker, the container format, you can.”

As for what Docker thinks of CoreOS’s new Rocket container technology, Golub said it’s too soon to tell. “It remains to be seen what the guys at CoreOS and the people using Rocket want it to be,” but if the world wants different container formats, so be it.

What exactly is Docker?

Docker, in Golub’s words, “is a platform for building, shipping and running distributed applications, which basically means that we give people the ability to create applications where either the entire application or portions of the application are packaged up in a lightweight format we call a container.”

While Docker is a platform, Golub was quick to point out that Docker is not a platform-as-a-service, like when it was once known as dotCloud; for example, it’s not providing servers.

As for what type of business Docker, Inc. (not the Docker open-source project) envisions itself to be, the best bet would be something similar to [company]VMware[/company].

“The closest analogy I guess I can give you is, for people who think of Docker and containers as a new form of virtualization, so [with] open source we gave away ESX and what we are selling is something akin to vCenter or vSphere.”

Ben Golub, CEO of Docker

Ben Golub, CEO of Docker

Docker has grown fast in the past year, and Golub said that major institutions, like financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies and governments are considering eventually using Docker in production.

“In the banks, generally speaking, they are doing pilots or they’re using us for the less sensitive areas of their operations,” Golub said. “But the plans are to move them over to operations. It took several years to move virtualization into their more core operations.”

And while making a viable business in open source is currently a somewhat disputed notion, Docker maintains it’s on the right trajectory and Golub points to [company]MongoDB[/company], [company]Hortonworks[/company] and [company]Cloudera[/company] as examples of entities “building viable businesses around open source.”

“In the case of Docker, we’ve been very clear to say that our monetization model is selling commercial software around management and monitoring,” he said.

How I learned to stop worrying and love commoditization

Technology entrepreneurs and investors alike have long regarded commoditization as a dark and dangerous force, a destroyer of high-margin businesses, to be avoided at all costs. An exciting new class of opportunity aims to eviscerate that dogma: the “commoditization accelerant.”