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Users wary of VMware's move beyond core virtualization

VMware's moves into desktop virtualization, consumer markets and cloud computing are very ambitious, but they lack real-world traction, VMworld attendees said.

SAN FRANCISCO -- VMware's move beyond core infrastructure software to the desktop, consumer markets and cloud computing is ambitious -- and lacks traction, according to VMworld 2009 attendees.

VMware Chief Technology Officer Steve Herrod gave a whirlwind tour of upcoming technologies in his keynote address on Wednesday, showing the company's progress in moving beyond core server virtualization into these new realms.

But Herrod's message appeared to fall flat with current and would-be VMware customers, who saw relatively little that they would be able to use in their data centers anytime soon.

"I guess I liked the management from my phone," said Terry Tiffany, a VMware administrator at the Americas division of QBE Insurance Group Ltd., referring to VMware vCenter Mobile Access (VCMA), a beta product that acts as a management client for the iPhone or another mobile device. "Anything that keeps me from having to get up at night is good." Herrod said that VCMA will be extended to support VMware View, the virtual desktop management platform.

Administrators' ears also perked up at Herrod's news that the company would extend VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) to support movement of virtual machines (VMs) for better disk I/O performance, not just CPU and memory consumption. It was unclear from the keynote whether I/O-enhanced DRS would simply move I/O-constrained VMs to a new ESX host using VMotion or whether it would move the VM to a new data store using Storage VMotion.

At the same time, Mike Laverick, a VMware instructor and blogger, expressed reservations about I/O-enhanced DRS. "If you have to move to VM for I/O performance reasons, maybe not enough planning [about placement] was done in the first place," he said.

Herrod also conducted the first public demonstration of vCenter ConfigControl, a Web-based change management application that tracks and reports on changed objects in a virtual environment. The product was scheduled to ship this year, but it has been pushed out to the first half of 2010.

Among ConfigControl's features are a search screen to find relevant VMs and visualization reports that highlight things such as host and VM configuration drift. However, some users on Twitter expressed surprise that ConfigControl was Web-based rather than integrated with the VI Client.

Herrod also showed a slide showing how VMware's current Lab Manager product will evolve into a general-purpose, self-service portal from which end users can request virtual machines. He also highlighted work being done by VMware partners to advance "long-distance VMotion" -- the live migration of virtual machines across geographically distributed data centers. Long-distance VMotion seems like "science fiction," Herrod said, but in fact, partners such as Cisco, F5 and Afore Solutions have already made remarkable progress toward making it real. "I expect next year we'll have even more to say about it," Herrod said.

VDI performance improves, but ROI in doubt
In addition, Herrod highlighted developments that improve the experience of a user working in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). He demonstrated PC-over-IP remote-display technology from Teradici and its own client hypervisor, running full-motion YouTube Video, Google Earth and Windows 7's Aero user interface.

VMworld attendees are keenly intrigued by desktop virtualization, but they're more interested in driving down the cost of the initial investment than they are in providing top-notch user experiences.

Two VMware administrators at a Midwestern department of transportation authority were at the show gathering information on desktop virtualization in order to justify its steep upfront cost to their reluctant management. The agency has 5,000 desktops across 1,000 offices across the state. "Management gets hairy, especially at some sites that are connected over DSL or dial-up," said one admin.

Moving to VDI will help centralize management and slash maintenance costs, they said, but the problem is that "the investment upfront is not cheap." The attendees said their hope "is that it will pay off over the long run."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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