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VMware Virtual Datacenter OS aims for enterprise data center space

VMware is attacking the enterprise data center space with the enhanced features and functionality of its new Virtual Datacenter Operating System. Learn how the OS will bring cloud computing into the data center and further change the virtualization landscape.

Solution provider takeaway: Solution providers should keep an eye on VMware's Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS) since the company's strategy could have a significant impact on the enterprise data center market.

VMware's recently announced VDC-OS -- components of which will reach the market starting next year -- is ambitious with a capital "A". Virtual Datacenter OS isn't a discrete product -- it's really a collection of new features and capabilities, dressed up in a fashionable cloud computing suit and geared to appeal to the enterprise data center set. The goals are certainly aggressive, with VMware positioning Virtual Datacenter OS as the answer to almost all of today's enterprise data center ills.

For resellers and integrators, VMware's announcement is important as it signals the company's long-term ambition to be a player in the large and lucrative enterprise IT management market. Given VMware's channel-centric sales and service model, VDC-OS buzz and the resulting implementations could fuel a significant portion of channel revenue in 2009 and beyond.

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From a feature and function standpoint, there's a lot to like in Virtual Datacenter OS. On the availability front, VMware is promising true fault tolerance through the use of its VMotion and vLockstep technology, without the expense of specialty fault-tolerant systems or the complexity of software clustering. It works by using VMotion to launch a copy of the application on a separate physical server. The state of the secondary application is then kept identical to the primary system through vLockstep. If the primary fails, then all network connections and storage assignments are automatically pointed to the secondary system. The application continues as before, with no lost transactions or data and no interruption to users.

Many of the capabilities of VDC-OS rely on the ability of VMotion to move running workloads between physical systems. Currently, there are significant limitations to VMotion. Chief among these is the requirement that the physical systems be almost identically configured for the migration to work. VMware is working to eliminate at least part of this problem with its new Enhanced VMotion, which will allow migrations between systems with different Intel or AMD processors. At this point, it's unclear if Enhanced VMotion will allow migration between Intel- and AMD-based systems, but it is assumed that this is probably in the works.

With Virtual Datacenter OS, VMware aims to give users more control over application quality of service (QoS) characteristics. Through the use of a new product, vApp, QoS characteristics such as desired configuration, performance, availability and security are encapsulated into the entire application stack, thus telling Virtual Datacenter OS where that application should be hosted.

VMware ESX Server scalability is also being enhanced, moving from the current limitation of 4 processor sockets and 64 GB of memory to a maximum of 8 sockets and 250 GB of memory. Given existing quad-core processors, this will provide enough head room to satisfy the vast majority of enterprise Windows and Linux workloads. System flexibility will also be improved with VMware's move to give customers the ability to add processors, memory and network devices to running systems -- features that are only available on Unix and mainframe systems today.

Cloud computing is also at the top of VMware's VDC-OS agenda. Many of the operating system's new features are cast as a way to bring cloud computing into the enterprise data center -- essentially to turn all computing components (systems, storage and the network) into seamless pools of capacity that can be used at will for any computing task. This, if successful, will spell the end of isolated IT silos of applications or systems and should help to drive much higher overall utilization rates and greater efficiency.

VMware isn't stopping at the corporate firewall, however. Its master plan includes automated mechanisms that will allow customers to take advantage of third-party cloud computing services in addition to, or instead of, using corporate IT assets. One could look at it as a cross-firewall VMotion feature that customers can use to move applications to low-cost computing hosts or to increase capacity during periods of peak demand. Application security, scalability and other QoS requirements are tracked in vApp and can be used to determine when and how a service should be migrated to a third-party cloud.

Most of the features above, along with several other ancillary enhancements, are still in the initial phases of development. Some are promised for 2009, while others are slated for later dates. Prices and product dependencies have not been disclosed and are perhaps not even set at this date.

VDC-OS puts VMware in ring with enterprise heavyweights

Taken as a whole, Virtual Datacenter OS represents a hugely aggressive roadmap, and it is certainly VMware's largest undertaking to date. From a competitive perspective, it is far more ambitious than anything that its x86 virtualization competitors, primarily Microsoft and Citrix Systems, are discussing -- even in their most wide-ranging futures pitches. Virtual Datacenter OS clearly gives VMware the high ground in terms of thought leadership versus Microsoft and Citrix.

However, this move up-market also takes VMware into a whole new ball game, since Virtual Datacenter OS, at its highest level, is nothing less than a total enterprise IT management suite. This puts VMware in competition with industry heavyweights such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP), CA and a host of other players already active in the enterprise data center space and driving toward many of the same goals.

While VDC-OS is certainly comprehensive and has lofty goals, it also has some serious limitations. It is strictly an x86 Windows and Linux story. While these systems certainly have a large presence in most data centers, they generally do not host the largest or most important enterprise workloads. IBM, HP and the other IT management vendors understand this fact and have geared their products toward managing heterogeneous environments.

Assuming that Virtual Datacenter OS is modular and open, it will be a fairly straightforward task for these vendors to fold its enhanced features into their own management suites. This will give VMware a larger revenue share of the enterprise data center market, but may not allow the company to realize long-term higher profit margins. Microsoft is sure to respond with like features that will work with its Hyper-V product, and the open source community is likely to come up with Linux alternatives. System management vendors will include enhancements to use any or all of the viable mechanisms, just as they have the ability to monitor and manage VMware, Microsoft and Xen virtual machines.

Still, VMware has decided to move forward with an aggressive agenda that challenges the industry establishment. This is familiar ground for the company, as the introduction of its hypervisor technology followed the same pattern. Time will tell if VMware can execute on its vision and capture a large slice of the enterprise data center management market, but it has fired the first salvo and the battle is on. VMware is sure to devote considerable resources toward making the VDC-OS initiative a reality. The company's marketing efforts will raise customer interest and awareness. Resellers and integrators who know the ins and outs of VDC-OS will be well positioned to educate their customers and land significant incremental hardware, software and implementation service revenue.

About the author
Dan Olds is the founder and principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., a Beaverton, Ore., IT analyst and consulting firm. Dan is always interested in hearing from users on topics including virtualization, servers and vendor support issues. You can email Dan at

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