VMware broadens its cloud strategy

VMware (NYSE: VMW) has security for its cloud OS, an API for integrating internal and external clouds and improved management features in store for the visitors of VMworld Europe, which kicks off on Tuesday.

At the event, the company will continue to build on the Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), the vCloud Initiative and the vClient Initiative — all of which were announced in September at the U.S. version of the event.

All three initiatives will be important pillars of VMware’s strategy, according to Bogomil Balkansky, VMware’s senior director of product marketing.

Its VDC-OS, which will allow enterprises to build their own so-called “internal” clouds in their own data centers, has gotten a real name: vSphere, VMware CEO Paul Maritz announced during his keynote on Tuesday.

Maritz likes to think of the new architecture as a software mainframe, at least when he is talking to people over 45, and describes it as a new substrate of software that provides the foundation either for an internal cloud or a foundation for an external cloud provider.

“It allows you to very effectively pool resources together, and think of it as a single, giant computing resource,” said Maritz.

Virtualization is fundamentally about encapsulating, according to Maritz. Users can take an existing application and all the complexity around it and package it into a “black box.” Then they can use virtualization and VDC-OS to handle it in a much more flexible way, he said.

VMware isn’t just naming its VDC-OS platform: It is also adding new parts, including a security service called vShield Zones, to its VDC-OS platform. The addition of vShield Zones will let users create separate zones in a cloud-based datacenter, similar to the notion of a demilitarized zone in the traditional IT infrastructure, but based on virtual machines rather than physical devices.

“Historically there has been a bit of a conflict between the security policy that is tied to the physical device and this new world of virtualization that is a lot more mobile and dynamic, and vShield Zones is really about marrying the best of both worlds,” Balkansky said.

Virtual servers, which have been grouped in a zone, can still move around like they have before, but the security policy associated with the servers will also move with them, according to Balkansky.

“What VMware is focused on doing with the Virtual Datacenter Operating System is really to bring the benefit of cloud computing to the internal data center and to allow companies to build their own internal cloud, and to make it act with the efficiency, resilience and characteristics of a cloud service provider,” said Balkansky.

VMware is still very secretive about the release of VDC-OS, only saying that it will be sometime in 2009. Pricing and packaging will also be announced later.

The company is one of a growing number of vendors that see future cloud computing as a hybrid between internal and external services running hand in hand — which VMware calls a virtual private cloud, something that will be made possible by its vCloud Initiative.

CIOs won’t have the luxury of being able to move internal IT systems to new cloud service providers, including Google and Amazon, according to Balkansky.

If VMware gets its way, software from the company will be used in both the internal and external cloud. At the same time, VMware says it wants to be a part of driving standards around cloud computing interoperability.

Standards will be very important to the future cloud computing. If standards aren’t developed clouds run the risk of becoming a Hotel California, a place where you can check in, but never check out, according to Maritz.

At VMworld Europe, the company is adding an API (Application Programming Interface) to its vCloud Initiative. The vCloud API will allow the migration of virtual machines between a company’s own infrastructure and another service provider and will also become part of VDC-OS.

The API is currently in a private release for VMware’s vCloud partners. “Service providers would use the API to build their cloud computing services in a way that they import and export virtual machines from the on-premise infrastructures of customers,” Balkansky said.

If a virtual machine is to be moved from one cloud to another, they need to speak a common language. Even if both sides are based on the same platform, the receiving cloud service provider needs to know what’s running inside the virtual, about security policies and availability, according to Balkansky.

Management will be important to the success of both vCloud Initiative. At VMworld Europe, the company is adding a plugin to the VI Client — the user interface of vCenter. It will allow administrators to see and manage all of the virtual machines, and it won’t matter where they are running, Balkansky said.

He expects the adoption of the technology to closely mimic that of virtualization; starting with testing and development and then moving from there.

VMware also announced it is adding a high availability feature called vCenter Server Heartbeat to its central management console vCenter.

Heartbeat will provide a fail-over feature to the vCenter server itself. If something happens to the primary management server, a spare copy will take over without any downtime, Balkansky said.

The availability of vCenter is becoming increasingly important as VMware installations grow in size. A lot of customers can’t bear even a second of downtime, and have been pushing VMware to make some improvements, according to Balkansky, who added that even if the management server goes down the infrastructure keeps going.

VMworld Europe runs until Thursday, Feb. 26.

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