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VMworld: There's No Cloud Without Storage

This week’s VMworld conference in San Francisco highlighted how it is possible to prosper regardless of the state of the economy. Fewer than 200 people gathered at the first VMworld in 2004. By 2008, it was up to 10,000 – right when the recession hit. While some IT conferences have faltered since that time, attendance jumped to 12,000 last year and 17,000 for this week’s show here in San Francisco. Numbers aside, the event brought some youthful enthusiasm to a storage world that can sometimes be a little staid.

This week’s VMworld show featured a collection of new applications for virtual environments, a heightening of the buzz around the cloud, a couple of acquisition announcements from VMware (NYSE: VMW), and a litany of storage vendors trying to hone in on the action.

“Every VM takes up storage,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group.

VMware’s corporate dad was never far away from the VMworld party. The theme of the event, “Virtual Roads, Actual Clouds,” echoed EMC’s “Journey to the Private Cloud” messaging from May’s EMC (NYSE: EMC) World conference in Boston. But like a good father who doesn’t want to embarrass his offspring when they are hanging out with their friends, EMC stayed in the background. Or perhaps the better analogy might be a father proudly watching his boy become the number one pick in the NFL draft.

Cloud Fever

The buzz around the cloud seemed to reach a fever pitch at VMworld. VMware president and CEO Paul Maritz’ keynote highlighted the three stages of the journey to the cloud. The first stage, he said, was gaining hardware efficiency through virtualization, followed by greater organization within the virtualization platform for resiliency, better management and closer alignment with business goals. But it is the third stage that has IT vendors drooling: adding agility by delivering IT as a service. And that’s all about the cloud.

Maritz laid out some stats to show the inevitable push toward cloud computing and what he called the tipping point. IDC reports that the number of applications running on virtual machines (VM) has exceeded physical servers for the first time. Ten million VMs were deployed in the past year and that number is expected to accelerate at a growth rate of 28 percent annually. That equates to 190,000 VMware customers.

“One of the implications is that the OS no longer controls the hardware,” said Maritz. “The virtualization layer is actually establishing a new infrastructure.”

However, new constructs are needed to push through to the agility phase such as virtual data centers with collections of storage, applications and services that share some common set of policies. These should be able to seamlessly meld with existing data centers to enable public, private and hybrid cloud arrangements. This necessitates new applications.

“Twenty to thirty year-old batch oriented code isn’t able to serve users on demand at whatever location and device they want,” said Maritz.

Applications such as backup will have to be responsive in real time, scalable and virtualized. To that end, programming frameworks and languages such as Spring, Scalar and Eiffel are filling the void. Using these tools, developers can associate common services and management tools with the apps running in the virtual world.

“We are seeing a shift in the stack away from the client-server model,” said Maritz. “The new model consists of the cloud, the latest application platforms and flexibility of end user access.”

To succeed in the enterprise, though, this platform requires enhanced security. Maritz talked about the blurring of physical boundaries and how this placed limitations on traditional security tools. What is needed is an integrated security model for the virtual world that secures across logical boundaries.

Virtual Snowstorm of Releases

Not surprisingly, VMware rolled out a flurry of releases at the show aimed at accomplishing all of the above. The vSphere operating platform presents storage, networking and servers as one pool of resources. The recently released vSphere 4.1 enables the virtual movement of storage and server resources up to five times faster, as well as the running of more vMotion activities concurrently, according to VMware CTO Steve Herrod.. Additionally, vSphere 4.1 can give VIP status to individual arrays, hosts and applications in order to ensure the fulfillment of service level agreements (SLAs).

VMware vCenter is used for management, capacity planning, configuration, disaster recovery and compliance. In addition, the company just added abstraction, automated analytics and greater visibility of resources via the acquisition of Integrien, whose technology will provide dashboard views of the underlying virtual server and storage infrastructure and rapid analysis of potential trouble spots.

“Integrien lets you drill down to see what is going on with the resources and applications underlying a VM that is in trouble,” said Herrod.

Using an iPod analogy, Maritz said VMware now can provide an AppStore for users known as the service catalog. This is a key part of the IT as a service dream. Users go to a portal, pick and choose how much processing power, storage and RAM they need to support a particular application or function and it is automatically provisioned in minutes. This includes the choice of storage tiers such as solid state disk (SSD), Fibre Channel disk, SATA, etc. To prevent VM sprawl, VMs expire by a certain date unless renewed.

Another result of all these new tools is the ability to break a physical data center into several virtual data center pools. Each pool is assigned different service levels based on tiers of storage and service. The most expensive tier, for instance, might be run on Fibre Channel with the highest availability. Perhaps the organization keeps this in house. However, under a hybrid cloud model, a private cloud might run the top and bottom tiers of service internally, while the mid-tier was farmed out to a service provider who could deliver it cheaper and more efficiently.

To facilitate this vision, VMware has rolled out vCloud Director (formerly known as Project Redwood). This is a tool for managing a cloud-based infrastructure whether it be private, public or hybrid. This is the release VMware believes will propel enterprises from merely being highly virtualized into the cloud.

“vCloud Director builds on vSphere to transform IT,” said Bogomil Balkansky vice president of product marketing at VMware. “It scales up to 10,000 VMs.”

This is the secret sauce that creates virtual data centers by pooling of resources into units of consumption such as RAM, disk and CPU.

On the security side, VMware has released a series of vShield products to provide a common virtual security platform to protect endpoints, applications and the network. VMware is partnering with the usual security suspects to create a new batch of virtual watchdogs.

“vShield provides such things as a hypervisor-based firewall and protects applications from network-based threats,” said Herrod.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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