IT Pro Perspectives Part Two: VMware – the virtues of virtualization

Seamus Quinn (SQ): VMware has risen to prominence very quickly in computer industry terms, when did you ship your first product?

Jan-Willem Lammers (JWL): The first product shipped in 1999, which was VMware Workstation and which is still, in terms of amount of licenses sold, our biggest product, because it is a desktop and end-user product. The nice thing, if you look at VMware Workstation, is that all the new technologies that are used in virtualization are first introduced into the workplace through it since we have a high developer touch rate and high user touch rate in those products. So you see this shift of the new technologies we are introducing. For example, 64-bit support for virtual machines was added first in the Workstation products and then forwarded to the GSX server, which was the middle product – GSX was succeeded last year by VMware Server, which is a free product. And from a management perspective our portfolio resulted in the VirtualCenter product where you run high end virtualization management services for the data centre.

SQ: From the VMware perspective, have things moved as quickly as you thought they would do, or has it been quite a slow process for people to get into the whole virtualization concept?

JWL: It has speeded up very quickly in the last two years but, still, if you look at the success rate overall, it is still about 7% of x86 servers worldwide run VMware virtualization, so there’s still a lot of opportunity out there to virtualize servers or to run them more efficiently, or flexibly, if you like. In the last five years we have seen a 100% growth year over year. Very few IT companies have had this kind of growth acceleration. Typically, there is a three year growth period and then you see it flattening out. And we now have over a billion dollar business and still the end is still not in sight.

SQ: If you have only got a penetration rate of 7%, that leaves an awful lot to play for.

JWL: Yeah, there’s still a lot of market to aim at. I did a presentation yesterday at this event and there were more people than could to fit in the room. And I think with about 90% of the people, I saw them nudging each other and saying: “Hey, have you seen this?” So there is still a lot of unawareness. Also, with the IT professionals we had yesterday, a lot of those people still don’t know what virtualization can mean to them, especially not in the datacenter. They know the desktop product, but they haven’t figured it out to convert that idea into a datacenter and what it actually can mean in cost savings and flexibility.

SQ: And once they get their heads round it, and once they understand the concept, do you find that IT pros embrace it very quickly, or is it something that they are still quite cautious about?

JWL: If you look at mid-sized companies, you first see evaluation; they download an evaluation copy and start doing a proof of concept. I think it’s nine out of ten that like it, that’s the success rate. So then it is: “This is great technology and we want to have that; we want to use that in our IT infrastructure. So then they start with a small environment, maybe with something they can grasp, a small consolidation or maybe a new project that they run with virtualization.

And when they start to see the benefits they say: “Oh, this has a large potential and we need to have education, so they start to take the VCP training, which is our certification programme. And then it goes quickly because then they have the sponsors inside, they have people that know the technology, know its abilities and then they say: “Okay, why not virtualize everything?” So, then I say: “Okay, slow down. Think about it, because virtualization is not about virtualizing everything. Virtualize with sense.”

Although the technology today enables you to virtualize more and more types of applications, you still have to consider, say, the impact on security. If previously I had a separate group of operators that operated in an environment solely for security reasons, you cannot simply consolidate those environments because they’re centrally managed by one group of people – so those are typically the risks we see with people getting over enthusiastic. But, after evaluation, we really see a lot of positive reactions and people are willing to say: “Okay, why not run everything virtually?”

And then we start running into the business issue because if the business people have a vote in this, they say: “Okay, well, this is my server, I don’t want to share my server with that business unit; it’s my server.” So, virtualization forces most organizations into more of a utility way of working; delivering services instead of buying a server for the customer. That is really a change in mindset that virtualization is causing.

SQ: At one point industry observers tipped Microsoft to buy VMware and then, in fact EMC did and left you very much as an independent entity. How does your relationship with Microsoft work now, given that it has its own virtualization products?

JWL: It is an ecosystem. And like every ecosystem in this world, if you have competition there is a marketplace and then it becomes a more viable solution for customers because there is choice. At this moment we are market leader by far. I think we own the market with 70, 80% running our virtualization software. But for the customer it is better that they have a choice; that’s what I wanted to point out yesterday in my presentation.

What I presented was the different view. If you look at the interview where Steve Ballmer said: “Virtualization is a good feature for the operating system”, that’s where VMware has a different vision than Microsoft, because we think virtualization with all the services and capabilities offer a great foundation for your datacenter infrastructure. And on top of that datacenter infrastructure you can run OSs, no matter what OSs. And the reason why we want to take the virtualization onto a lower level in the stack is because it allows you to play into things like availability and capacity management and issue maintenance at an infrastructure level. And the complexity has gone away from the operating supply. So we’re reducing complexity in the OS, because if you look at clustering solutions, very few people are successful with that and getting higher availability. A lot of people are getting low availability because of complexity.

SQ: Because of?

JWL: Because of the complexity of clustering. It’s a hassle and it takes you a day or maybe two to get a cluster running. If you look at high availability on VMware, in the interface it takes you five mouse clicks and then every virtual machine running on top of that profits from that feature; it’s as simple that.

SQ: Do you think that 64-bit computing in the Microsoft environment is driving demand for virtualization, or does it not make any difference?

JWL: Yes, it is because with 64-bit you can address larger systems and there are very few applications that consume these large systems. So virtualization is the cure for the architecture of x86 for today and tomorrow. So, yes, virtualization makes sense because we’re seeing lower and lower utilization with newer systems. It makes sense that 64-bit is just another step in expanding power in the x86 environment in terms of memory and things like that.

SQ: Let’s say you’ve got a standard 64-bit server. How many actual individual partitions can you run on VMware with it?

JWL: As many as you like until the smoke comes out.

SQ: What’s the limit?

JWL: If you look at the server product, we’re running maximum of a 128 virtual CPU, so you can have 128 virtual machines on one CPU, or 64 on two CPUs. That’s a practical limit I think. I don’t think you want to afford the risk of higher than that, so it’s a good balance and we’re stretching that as time shifts. But, at this moment, we see people running between two and 30 virtual machines typically on these boxes.

SQ: That’s standard?

JWL: Yeah, that’s what we see nowadays and it works for them, because virtualization is not about consolidation. That’s where it came from, but virtualization is about automation and making the datacenter agile and making it more flexible and be able to deploy a fully equipped new server within ten minutes instead of four weeks. Because, typically, when you have a new budget you call the purchasers to say “I need a new server” and they buy a new server; they order it, you unwrap it and unpack it, cable it and so on. But if you have the hardware resources available you can just deliver a virtual machine from a customized template within ten minutes and you’re done. So that really is changing the way things work. The consolidation aspect is enabling, but it’s not the key driver. The key driver is being an added value for your business by increasing availability, securing your data and accelerating server provisioning.

SQ: When you come to an event like this and given the target audience, what would you say are your key messages?

JWL: The key message is that virtualization should be a function in your datacenter infrastructure instead of being integrated in your operating system. Because then it gives you freedom of choice and a different level of complexity. Because now if you have to migrate to a new level of virtualization, you can just do it; with our software you’re in motion and you move all your virtual machines away. You upgrade one of the hypervisor boxes and then you move your virtual machines back. The virtual machines on top don’t know nor will your end users.

If you’re using another product, you’re having your virtualization integrated in your operating system. So if you have to upgrade that and if you don’t have live migration you are incurring a lot of downtime in your environment just because you introduced virtualization. Your company is not going to love you for that. So you’ve saved money, but introduced more downtime, better you should have kept it like it was.

If you can’t do it within your datacenter the proper way it is better not to do it, because you’re not making people happier. So, the key message to take away? The current issues surrounding virtualization have been addressed since 2003. It is proven technology and it is not something people have to be afraid about any more. It works and it has worked for years.

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