VMware gears up for a challenging future

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Raghu Raghuram (VMware)

Raghu Raghuram (VMware)

Credit: VMware

After a big year of change in everything from its ownership and executive suite to its cloud and network offerings, VMware is girding for battle in the challenges ahead.

At the vendor’s VMworld 2021 conference (October 5-7)  many of the technologies the company provides — from multi-cloud connectivity and cloud management to NSX networking, security and other digital-transformation tools — will be front-and-centre in over 900 sessions.

“At VMworld last year, much of the discussion focused on cloud’s role in supporting business agility and resiliency in the context of the pandemic, as countless businesses sought to move applications to the cloud quickly to support distributed working,” wrote Hervé Renault, vice president of cloud sales for VMware in a blog about the conference agenda.

“A year on, it’s clear this process has accelerated many businesses’ planned transition to cloud and elevated cloud maturity, as they respond to end-user demand for a digital-first, app-driven future.”

Earlier this month at a press and analyst event marking his first 100 days as CEO, Raghu Raghuram talked about the long-term view of VMware that included what are likely to be key topics at VMworld.

“The pandemic has accelerated what was already happening in that there are now many more distributed applications, infrastructure and people, and because of the way things have been accelerated, people are finding that this distributed multi-cloud world is pretty complex and we are looking to reduce that complexity,” Raghuram said. Adding to that complexity, 75 per cent of VMware’s customers are deploying more than one cloud vendor, he said.

Tanzu and the cloud

“We want to be the platform for distributed computing. Not only do we want to be the platform, but we want to do it using the open technologies and the open protocols that are coming up in order to be able to manage things like Kubernetes.” In VMware’s case Kubernetes means its Tanzu platform, which will be a hot conference topic.

The growth opportunity for Tanzu is massive, Raghuram said. Every time a new application gets written with Tanzu, it could land on some piece of infrastructure, either in the public cloud or potentially on the VMware ESXi hypervisor.

“What we are doing is pivoting our portfolio or positioning our portfolio to become the multi-cloud platform for our customers in three ways,” Raghuram said.

“One is enabling them to execute their application transformation on the cloud of their choice using our Tanzu portfolio. And Tanzu is getting increased momentum, especially in the public cloud to help them master the complexities of doing application modernisation in the cloud,” Raghuram said.

“And of course, by putting our cloud infrastructure across all clouds, and we are the only one with the cloud infrastructure across all clouds and forming the strategic partnerships with all of the cloud vendors, we are helping them take their enterprise applications to the right cloud.”

Building useful modern enterprise applications is a core customer concern, experts say.

“Most new apps are built-on containers for speed and scalability. The clear winner of the container wars was Kubernetes,” said Scott Miller, senior director of strategic partnerships for World Wide Technology (WWT), a technology and supply-chain service provider and a VMware partner. “We are having many conversations today with our clients to help them understand the best way to build new applications and manage them past the build in a secure way.”

VMware also expects big things from Project Monterey, an effort announced a year ago that melds bare-metal servers, graphics processing units (GPUs), field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), network interface cards (NICs), and security into a large-scale virtualised environment.

A key component is VMware’s SmartNIC which incorporates a general-purpose CPU, out-of-band management, and virtualised device features. As part of Monterey, VMware enabled its ESXi hypervisor to run on the NIC, which will provide a single management framework for all the compute infrastructure whether virtualised or bare-metal.

Monterey would extend VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) — which integrates vShphere virtualisation, vSAN storage, NSX networking, and vRealize cloud management — to support GPUs, FPGAs, and NICs into a single platform that can be deployed on-premises or in a public cloud.

Monterey includes a development agreement between VMware and GPU giant Nvidia (Intel is also a core partner) to bring its BlueField-2 data-processing unit and other technologies into Monterey. Nvidia, which will be featured in 25 sessions during VMworld, announced an early-access program for customers interested in exploring Monterey.

VMware challenges

While VMworld will speak to a number of the company’s technology directions, other issues will challenge VMware going forward.

“The big questions are: 1) Whether VMware’s cloud strategy requires that they use the same middleware for cloud and data centre; 2) Are VMs really where customers want/need to be?; and 3) Is VMware really building a hybrid-cloud strategy or simply trying to promote VMware data centre strategies?” said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. “I think they need to answer these questions convincingly by the December timeframe or they risk not being part of 2022 budgets.”

VMware has accommodated containers but not pushed them to their VM base as much as accepted them, Nolle said. The VM focus has limited its ability to exploit the cloud-front-end model that’s really driving enterprise cloud adoption, he said.

“Some multi-cloud is easier with VMs than containers, some is more expensive with VMs than with containers,” Nolle said. “With regard to security, remote work, serverless, and so forth, all these issues are probably more readily addressed with containerised software, and VMware is mostly about VMs.”

Others see VMware as working to address the complexity challenge of multi-cloud environments.

“I think the first challenge is understanding the complexity of the entire VMware portfolio and knowing which business outcomes can be best accomplished through the use of VMware software,” Miller said.

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