Users to VMware: Where's the VDC-OS beef?

On the eve of VMworld Europe, VMware customers hope the company will show evidence of its progress toward a solid and bug-free release of its VDC-OS platform.

When VMworld Europe 2009 opens this week, almost six months will have elapsed since VMware CEO Paul Maritz laid out his vision for the company's Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), the evolution of its current Virtual Infrastructure 3 platform.

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Generally speaking, VMware users like what they've heard about VDC-OS. But at VMworld Europe, they want the company to show evidence of its progress. With VDC-OS, they hope the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company will add missing management features and address long-standing problems with support and quality control.

"What I want to see is how it's going to better enable its platform for grid computing," said Tom Becchetti, a senior infrastructure engineer at a Fortune 1000 manufacturing firm who oversees about 25 ESX hosts running upward of 300 virtual machines. Today, in Becchetti's shop, provisioning new applications is still a relatively manual process; ultimately, he'd like to come to be able "to spin up a bunch of hardware and have the workloads flow on to it automatically," based on performance, service levels, security policies and the like.

If VMware can deliver, it will result in better utilization, less hardware and fewer system administrators. "The goal is to make computing as reliable and efficient as possible," Becchetti said.

But VMware's challenge involve gaining sufficient visibility into the application and operating system levels of the stack, he said. And in the meantime, he is "kicking the tires on [Citrix] XenServer and [Microsoft] Hyper-V."

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That sentiment mirrors that of many established VMware customers, said Scott Lowe, the national technical lead at IT consulting firm ePlus Inc. in Herndon, Va. Technically, VMware retains only a few advantages over Hyper-V and XenServer, and IT managers are looking for a reason not to play around with those alternative virtualization products. "They're saying, 'Where are you, VMware, in the next product cycle?'" Lowe said. The sentiment is, "if VMware is going to be delayed getting the next release out the door, maybe [they] should be looking at alternate solutions."

VMware administrators want something VMware hasn't given them in a long time: a problem-free release.
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That's particularly true among the hordes of small and medium businesses that haven't committed to VMware yet, Lowe said, and that have concerns about VMware's long-term viability. "VMware really needs to show [the IT community at large] that they can execute on their vision."

An IT exec at a New York-based financial services firm said his company is pleased with VMware and runs 80% of its virtualization projects on it, but the other 20% run Microsoft Hyper-V. The company wants to keep its vendors honest by letting both suppliers know it has options. That balance-of-power scenario could help upstarts gain a toehold in more VMware accounts, he said.

Meanwhile, VMware users also worry about support, day-to-day operational issues, and quality control.

The CIO of a Boston-area media company said that his firm is generally happy with VMware but that it struggles with getting all its applications supported. "The big issue is becoming whether or not or how well VMware supports emerging technologies and vice versa," he said. "The more stuff you do out there, the [more] new platforms and development tools [you use], every one of these vendors says it doesn't want you to run on VMware because that's another layer to test."

Backup is a persistent problem, as is capacity planning, said ePlus' Lowe. "People need a better way to look at their virtual infrastructure. They want to know, 'What is my capacity today, what is my capacity tomorrow, and what is it a month from now?'" Furthermore, they don't want to buy capacity planning tools from third-party vendors like Vizioncore and VKernel. "They feel like VMware is giving them the hypervisor, the management platform and that they're the vendor that's best positioned to give them additional management capabilities."

But most of all, VMware administrators want something VMware hasn't given them in a long time: a problem-free release. According to one VMware administrator who declined to be named, recent updates of ESX 3.5 have all had "a pretty significant problem," starting with the infamous Update 2 "time bomb" bug, to the "random reboots" issue in Update 3.

Back in the days of ESX 3.1 and earlier, new releases were "rock solid," the administrator said. "I used to be on new releases after just a week of testing." These days, he's more cautious. "The problems have made me very wary."

So for this administrator, signs from VMware that it is investing in its quality-control processes would be welcome. At the end of the day, though, "it's all about results. The only thing that will make me really feel better is the absence of these problems."

Check out the rest of our VMworld Europe news coverage.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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