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Exclusive Q&A with VMware CTO Steve Herrod

We Will Make the Cloud Hype a Reality: VMware CTO

"There's a lot of hype over cloud computing, but we're confident that we will have the tools to make the hype a reality and help enterprises leverage this new computing model for all of their applications and with their management and security concerns addressed," says VMware CTO Steve Herrod in this Exclusive Q&A with Jeremy Geelan, Conference Chair of SYS-CON's Cloud Computing Expo series (California, New York, and Prague).

Steve Herrod, VMware CTO, during his Virtualization Conference & Expo Keynote in New York City

Jeremy Geelan: Do you agree with Dell's Drew Engstrom that "virtualization has matured to the point where it is not just viewed as a red-hot, ‘solve everything' technology, but as an effective means...to meet specific business needs and objectives"? Are we really that far along already - and if so why?

Steve Herrod: At VMware, we've worked together with Dell and with Drew for many years, and we have enjoyed helping with virtualization's broad acceptance and continued maturation. It is absolutely clear that virtualization is here to stay. In the future, we'll look back at the non-virtualized compute models as we look back on the phonograph or on bulky CRTs. The benefits it brings towards more efficient hardware use, faster server provisioning, higher application availability, and more secure computing are undeniable. All of that being said, I believe we're far from realizing the full benefits that virtualization can bring to datacenters, desktops, laptops, and mobile phones.

Geelan: So in these recession-sensitive times, business benefits are both real and tangible, from virtualization?

Herrod: Absolutely. Virtualization has always enabled IT organizations to do more with less, and our customers commonly share their amazement regarding just how quickly and easily they achieve their return-on-investment. What's more, they are achieving these savings while also progressing down the path towards the more flexible, available, and secure datacenter of the future.

Geelan: In your recent VMware Blog you anticipated that 2009 would begin to see the resolution of what you called the "desktop dilemma" - i.e., the business choice of whether to provide thick or thin clients for employees. What specific business and technology vectors make 2009 a decision-year?

Herrod: There are a number of factors forcing IT departments to rethink how they will provide desktop computing to their organizations:

  • People are more mobile than ever, using a multitude of devices to do their work
  • Compliance and security requirements have increased
  • Growing diversity in the types of applications (e.g. Windows, Mac, and Web)
  • IT must support all of the above changes with tighter budgets than ever

Our vClient initiative is aimed at providing an elegant solution to the above challenges, giving users ubiquitous access to all of their applications and with a rich user experience while helping IT make these desktops more manageable and secure.

Geelan: Aside from the desktop, where else does VMware see most potential growth for virtualization technologies?

Herrod: We have three major initiatives at VMware; Virtual Datacenter OS (datacenter products), vClient (desktop products), and vCloud (connecting enterprise customers with cloud providers). The datacenter side of the business is the most mature, but it's still incredibly early on in this opportunity. We constantly see customers transition their use of virtualization from tactical server consolidation projects to it being the centerpiece of their more strategic datacenter directions. As customers continue this progression, we see huge opportunities for the management and automation solutions that we provide.

And the vCloud initiative is also very early and full of promise. There's a lot of hype over "cloud computing", but we're confident that we will have the tools to make the hype a reality and help enterprises leverage this new computing model for all of their applications and with their management and security concerns addressed.

Geelan: What's the risk of Virtualization becoming just another buzzword used in the attempt to get organizations to "sign a check"?

Herrod: VMware's culture has been to avoid the hype and always try to under-promise and over-deliver. That being said, excessive industry-wide hype over virtualization (and cloud computing for that matter) can lead to disappointment. We're going to try to tamper the overhyping and focus on the specific benefits of VMware virtualization.

Geelan: Tell us about your collaboration with Cisco...what role can virtualization play in the networking space?

Herrod: We're collaborating with Cisco on a number of fronts. The most visible collaboration has been their introduction of the Nexus 1000v, the first 3rd-party software network switch available for VMware Infrastructure. This will go a long way in giving network administrators all of the visibility and flexibility that they need in the virtualized datacenter. We are also collaborating on more responsive remote display protocols for our vClient initiative, on new security offerings for the Virtual Datacenter OS, on standards for network management, and on several future areas that I can't publicly comment on.

It's clear that this is just the beginning, too. The datacenter of the future will be fully virtualized with the network enabling new levels of application mobility, security, and quality-of service guarantees. As we transition customers towards the cloud model, the network will, of course, play an even bigger and more visible role in these same areas.

Geelan: How about mobile virtualization - what's the current story there?

Herrod: Virtualization for mobile phones feels very similar to what we encountered 10 years ago with desktop and server virtualization; there are several technical challenges, but there will be a very big payoff to handset manufacturers, telecom service providers, ISVs, and end customers. Several companies are evaluating our products and expressing excitement in two particular areas: (1) simplifying the development, test, and deployment of the increasingly powerful OSes and applications for mobile devices, and (2) providing increased security by isolating trusted data and applications from the fun downloads many people are enjoying. It's still early though, and I expect it to be at least another year before you start to see broad deployment of virtualizaiton in the mobile phone space.

Geelan: As you know, SYS-CON as an organization is laser-focused not only on virtualization but also on cloud computing: how does VMware define itself in relation to the new world of the cloud?

Herrod: Virtualization and automation are key enablers of cloud computing, so we feel that we have a major role to play in this new space. Our vision is three fold:

  1. Help enterprises to run their own datacenters in a more "cloud-like" fashion. These "internal clouds" will be more efficient, deliver compute capabilities on demand, and securely support multiple disparate departments on a shared physical infrastructure.
  2. Provide a powerful software stack to a broad ecosystem of cloud providers. We'll deliver a suite of software that will help "external clouds" increase their efficiency and provide meaningful service level agreements for their users.
  3. Provide technologies to connect the internal and external clouds. The beauty of virtualized applications is that they are fully encapsulated and can be transported between datacenters without modification. We're working with our partners to enable this connectivity and let enterprise customers leverage the external clouds as desired... for on-demand test labs, for overflow compute capacity during peak demand periods, or to completely transition a set of their production workloads.

Again, there is a lot of work to do to achieve this full vision, but we're confident in the direction and think we have the right team and tools to deliver it.

Geelan: So is it a multi-vendor world, an interoperable one?

Herrod: It's a more heterogeneous world than ever before, but customers clearly desire, and in fact demand, interoperability. Virtualization naturally helps interoperability by breaking the unnatural ties between software and hardware. However, there is a lot of additional interoperability work required, and we're particularly focused on enabling two industry standards. The first is called the open virtualization format (OVF). OVF is focused on defining a standard format for virtual machines that enables them to be deployed on any vendor's virtualization offering. The second focus area is on management of the virtualization layer. This effort is farther behind, but is focused on defining a standard set of interfaces that hypervisors should support with the end goal of enabling management of multiple virtualization offerings from a single management tool.

Geelan: Do you agree with those who contend that Cloud Computing, in its current incarnation anyway, falls short on its promise to make computing as a whole as simple as plugging an application into a utility service? What's the trajectory of Cloud Computing seen from a VMware perspective?

Herrod: There are some great examples of cloud computing today, but they typically come with some constraints or compromises. For example, some cloud computing offerings require that you rewrite your application for their specific environment. In addition to the work required to do the coding, it also makes it difficult or impossible to ever leave that cloud should you need to. Another compromise with some cloud offerings has been the lack of acceptable performance and availability service level agreements.

As mentioned above, we think we can leverage our technology expertise to address many of these compromises and make cloud computing a reality even for completely unmodified applications and with even more desirable SLAs. We also believe we can help on the interoperability front, allowing customers to more easily enter and exit cloud computing providers with their virtualized applications.

Geelan: Lastly, what duty or duties of care do you feel being the CTO of a top company like VMware brings with it in the first decade of the twenty-first century? How important is the ‘IT greening' aspect of virtualization to you, for example?

Herrod: I believe that all companies have a requirement to be good stewards of the environment while they grow their businesses, and I'm very proud at the positive impact that VMware has made in this space. Each server that we virtualize saves as much as 7000 kilowatt-hours of energy and has a carbon footprint improvement that is equivalent to planting 55 trees or taking 1.5 cars off the highway. We're doing even more research into power savings and expect to deliver even more improved "green" solutions across both the datacenter and desktop as we move forward.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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