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Where will VMware draw the line?

With the launch of vSphere 5, VMware’s ESXi hypervisor has absorbed a number of functions that previously were the sole purview of IT infrastructure partners, especially in data storage. During discussions with TechTarget reporters Wednesday at the company’s Palo Alto headquarters, VMware officials addressed this ongoing trend among the company’s products, and dropped a few tidbits about the strategy for providing infrastructure services through software going forward.

The trend of absorbing infrastructure functions into the hypervisor has been going on since ESX 2, when VMware introduced its first storage multi-pathing feature. In subsequent releases, vSphere also developed its own virtual switching capabilities; began to offer its own snapshot-based backup with VMware Data Recovery; and build its own virtual firewalls with the vShield product line.

Now, vSphere 5 can now perform its own replication with Site Recovery Manager 5.0 and automate the placement of virtual machines on disk arrays with Profile-Driven Storage and Storage DRS. With vShield 5, VMware added data loss prevention and regulatory compliance features through a new integration with RSA’s Data Loss Prevention (DLP) suite. For SMB users, vSphere now offers its own shared storage capabilities with the new virtual storage appliance also announced this week.

So, we asked VMware’s execs, how far will the company go in its quest to deliver infrastructure services through the hypervisor? And where will it ultimately draw the line between rolling out its own offerings and leaving advanced infrastructure services to third parties?

For example, today, the ability to pool the storage on ESXi hosts’ internal disks through the vSphere 5 storage appliance is limited to three hosts at the Essentials Plus licensing level. Storage commands have to take a roundabout path through the hypervisor with this product, according to Raghu Raghuram, general manager of VMware’s virtualization and cloud platforms, so its scalability may remain limited.

But it’s certainly not beyond VMware’s engineering capabilities to offer similar storage pooling well beyond 3 nodes – after all, pooling storage and processing capacity among vast numbers of scale-out commodity hardware is already going on in the cloud today, with Google File System being the most famous example. There’s nothing stopping VMware from offering something competitive in that space going forward as well.

In fact, Raghuram revealed, while not officially on the roadmap, VMware has some prototypes percolating in its labs along these lines.

VMware also intends to go deeper into DLP with vShield, according to vShield director of product management Dean Coza – into areas that may include encryption and policy-based data placement controls.

In the meantime, there are certain businesses VMware has no plans to get into at this point, according to Raghuram, such as intrusion detection and prevention and antivirus services. Such services will be left to partners. “We don’t have their 24 by 7 [Network Operations Centers] where they’re watching for all sorts of security attacks.”

But ultimately, these lines are drawn in ever-shifting sands as technology advances. The build-vs.-partner question “is something that’s debated all the time, and the specifics of the answer change…it becomes a case-by-case decision rather than a uniform policy,” Raghuram said.

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