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VMware unveils cloud computing vision with new Virtual Datacenter OS

On day one of VMworld, VMware announced Virtual Datacenter Operating System and vCloud, initiatives designed to enable data centers and managed service providers to exploit cloud computing.

LAS VEGAS --After many months of alluding to forthcoming cloud computing news, Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc. announced its sweeping vision for virtualization and the cloud on the first day of VMworld, its annual user show.

For the first time, VMware unveiled the following features:

  • VMware's Virtual Datacenter Operating System, or VDC-OS, the evolution of its current VMware Infrastructure platform that adds technologies to transform traditional data centers into so-called virtual data centers, or internal clouds;
  • VMware's vCloud initiative to help managed services providers become cloud providers and to enable enterprises to exploit the external cloud resources.

Just as VMware's hypervisor has become a mainstream component of today's servers, VMware hopes that VDC-OS will become the fundamental building block of the next-generation data center. "To run a server, you need a server OS. To run a virtual data center, you need a virtual data center OS – a fabric that harnesses all the resources and ties it all together with a layer of management," said Raghu Raghuram, VMware's vice president of products and solutions.

Not to be outdone, VMware's rival, the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix Systems Inc. announced Citrix Cloud Center, or C3, including the release of XenServer Cloud Edition, an appeal to the myriad managed service providers that have already adopted open source versions of Xen as their hypervisor platform.

To run a virtual data center, you need a virtual data center OS -- a fabric that harnesses all the resources and ties it all together with a layer of management.
Raghu RaghuramVP of of products and solutions, VMware Inc.

"Trivially, we looked around and found a couple hundred hosted IT infrastructure providers using open source Xen," said Simon Crosby, Citrix's chief technology officer. "XenServer Cloud Edition is intended to win greenfield accounts but also to bring the open source Xen guys back home" with features like the ability to run Windows guests and commercial support.

VMware's VDC-OS and vCloud initiatives, however, are more forward looking; while some of components of VDC-OS and vCloud are already in place, others will be delivered piecemeal throughout 2009.

Expanded network, storage capabilities

To serve the data center as a whole, VMware's platform must move to control resources other than servers. "If you think about [ESX and Distributed Resource Scheduler], it's primarily about compute today," Raghuram said. "The two other dimensions are storage and networking, and we are creating new technologies to help you pool them as well."

To that end, VDC-OS incorporates the notion of cloud "vServices": vCompute, which encompasses existing technologies like the ESX hypervisor and load-balancing technologies, but also vNetwork and vStorage. With vNetwork, VDC-OS aims to aggregate a data center's networking resources into a globally accessible pool. Meanwhile, vStorage gathers up heterogeneous storage resources under the auspices of VMware's proprietary Virtual Machine File System.

As part of vNetwork, VMware is announcing the vNetwork Distributed Switch, an extension of existing virtual switches that today run on an individual ESX host, but that applies to an organization's entire virtual environment.

Think of it as a "giant distributed switch that all apps [and hosts] are connected to," said Raghuram. In addition, the Distributed Switch technology will integrate with physical switches and allow them to control characteristics such as security and quality of service. In particular, Cisco Systems Inc. is expected to announce a new Nexus switch at VMworld that will support the new distributed switch technology.

The Distributed Switch will be a boon to small and medium-sized shops that today struggle to maintain their regular virtual switches, said Chris Wolf, a virtualization analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group. Today, with regular virtual switches, "Virtual machines [VMs] are assigned to virtual switches in a port group that need to be consistent with each ESX host in the cluster," Wolf said. Managing which VMs are assigned to which virtual switches can be complicated, particularly when migrating VMs using VMotion. But with the distributed switch, "you get one interface to manage all your switches under one umbrella," Wolf said, simplifying management.

As far as vStorage services, VMware has announced two new technologies: vStorage Thin Provisioning and Linked Clones. In addition, Storage VMotion will be "substantially enhanced," Raghuram said, such that "NAS [devices] can sit next to iSCSI can sit next to Fibre Channel" and that "virtual disks can migrate between them."

Another aspect of VDC-OS is vApp, a packaging model based on the Distributed Management Task Force's based Open Virtual Machine File, or OVF, format and an evolution of the virtual appliance concept. A complement to vApp is the newly released VMware Studio, an ISV tool for packaging applications as a vApp container. The vApp container consists of the one or many virtual machines that make up an application stack, plus metadata that describes the stack, including information about network configuration, quality of service metrics, security, etc.

New horses in the VirtualCenter stable

Finally, tying VDC-OS all together is the next version of Virtual Center, whose name will evolve to vCenter as VDC-OS rolls out. As part of the VDC-OS announcement, VMware has also pre-announced several new management features, including the following:

  • AppSense, application performance management software derived from VMware's B-Hive acquisition that allows transaction-level monitoring of applications;
  • Chargeback for resource accountability
  • Orchestrator, a workflow management product being integrated into VirtualCenter;
  • CapacityIQ, a capacity management tool for advanced infrastructure planning; and
  • ConfigControl, for policy-based change and configuration management

A cloud provider chimes in

Ultimately, the point of adding all these new features is to enable IT to take advantage of an emerging class of computing resources in the cloud. To that end, VMware's vision calls for their current enterprise customers to be able to seamlessly migrate workloads from their own virtual environments to the external cloud.

"Let's say you need to build a new data center," suggested Raghuram. While waiting for the new data center to be completed, IT could move workloads to the cloud, and move them in-house again once it was built. "Or let's say you're a retailer whose business explodes between Thanksgiving and Christmas; instead of building that extra capacity yourself, you could turn to the cloud."

Most of the technologies behind these scenarios are already in place today, said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, and ultimately the vision is one of a "fluid data center with built-in dynamism, automation and policies all built around this idea of cloud services."

But while cloud computing is all the rage, VMware's vision of seamless migration of workloads to and from internal to external clouds isn't quite there yet, said Ian Knox, the director of product management at SkyTap, a cloud-based provider of virtual labs supports both VMware ESX and Xen virtualization, and one of about a hundred service providers that came out in support of the vCloud initiative.

For example, by running their applications within virtual machines, SkyTap customers can already easily move their workloads back and forth between their data centers and SkyTap's cloud, Knox said. Support for VPNs and an application programming interface (API) tighten that integration still further. But even so, "the thing that is still a little clunky is moving those VMs seamlessly," Knox said. For now, moving a workload between an internal and external cloud "is not an instantaneous switch."

To get there, several technologies need to fall in to place. For one, Raghuram said VMware is working on a sort of distributed VMotion, which would allow for the live migration of VMs across a WAN.

However, SkyTap's Knox said he has not seen that technology at work yet and that in order for it to be possible improvements need to be made in the area of network speeds and optimized streaming of virtual machines. Some of the VMs that get moved by VMotion "are quite big," Knox said. At last year's VMworld, VMware co-founder Mendel Rosenblum demonstrated VM streaming . Knox also called for further cloud standards and APIs. "Controlling what is happening in the cloud will be really important for business processes, and a standardized API will really help with that." Knox predicted progress would be made on cloud APIs this coming year.

In the meantime, adoption of cloud computing will progress along a predictable path: low-risk applications, followed by higher-risk production applications several years down the road.

At this rate, is there a possibility that cloud computing might not pan out? "It will definitely happen," Knox said. "The economics of cloud computing will lower cost for people, will improve their agility and what you can do with IT. That's why all these large vendors are jumping in right now. But as far as the vision of dynamically moved environments, it will be a five-year process."

To return to our VMworld 2008 coverage, click here.

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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