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VMware shops: No Digital Fuel in the tank for now

If VMware buys it, will users come? The Digital Fuel acquisition will take time to sink in, especially for smaller shops that have already invested in chargeback tools.

VMware’s latest acquisition, Digital Fuel, will appeal first to service providers and the biggest of big enterprise IT shops, but it may take a while before most organizations absorb its IT Financial Management software.

Who did VMware buy this technology for?

Digital Fuel’s Software as a Service (SaaS) application analyzes how much IT services cost, including facilities costs, personnel costs and vendor contracts, and can be used to perform showback or chargeback to business units in virtual infrastructures.

But in many cases, IT pros say they’d rather use their own homegrown tools than Digital Fuel's offering. Bob Plankers, a virtualization architect at a large Midwestern university that oversees about 400 virtual machines (VMs), said Digital Fuel’s product is worth investigating, but he’s skeptical about cost.

“One of my concerns with chargeback mechanisms is that the licensing fees for the software to do chargeback can actually add a significant cost to the whole environment… it might actually just be cheaper to write something to do it [yourself],” Plankers said.

Other users have already invested in chargeback and reporting products. Wayne Gateman, an area coordinator of virtualization for a Fortune 15 company in the medical distribution and software field, has about 3,000 VMs to manage and is currently using VKernel to dip a toe into showback.

“We are moving to show group usage, report on number of VMs and storage being used by each group. Doing [that] will let us question the group’s usage versus normal range, [but not] trying to tell one internal group to pay another,” he said. “We [mainly] use VKernel for the monitoring.”

Digital Fuel’s software also provides showback features and monitoring, but the Digital Fuel offering probably won’t be necessary in his shop, Gateman said.

Who’s the target audience for Digital Fuel?
That raises the question: Who did VMware buy this technology for?

Digital Fuel could be a bit of a hard sell to the average VMware customer at first, said Dave Bartoletti, senior analyst and consultant for the Taneja Group. Traditional enterprises where the customers are all internal users “might not be so ready for this, because they’re not used to being really responsible at the end of the day for a bottom-line cost analysis,” he said.

However, “Where I think it positions VMware really well is for the big, big service providers that offer lots of different IT services and really have to manage them as a business. And those are the guys that are facing all the pressure from the cloud.”

At the same time, the fact that Digital Fuel offers its wares as SaaS will help it appeal, over time, to smaller organizations, predicted Bartoletti.

“They were one of the earliest ones who said, you can do this on site or off site…do it with SaaS. Don’t install more software,” said Bartoletti. “I think a lot of midsize firms could do it this way cheaply, a lot more cheaply than building their own spreadsheets and working it out themselves.”

Casting for bigger fish
For big shops with tens of thousands of VMs or more, the new offering will be more immediately attractive, experts said. Digital Fuel has amassed hundreds of customers in its more than 10 years of existence, and the client list reads “like a who’s who of large IT groups,” according to Tony Iams, senior vice president and senior analyst at Ideas International. Customers include BASF, BBC, BT, Capital One, Cisco, Dell, Deutsche Bank, GE, IBM, Nationwide, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Siemens, Sprint, Unisys and Volkswagen, according to VMware’s press release about the acquisition.

“You just have to look at their client list to see who they’re signing up,” Iams said. “If you’re an SMB maybe it doesn’t make sense, but at some point when you reach critical mass, it does make a lot of sense. It also depends on how refined, efficient, sophisticated your current infrastructure is…but the harder it is to get a handle on your infrastructure, the more value a tool like this is going to have.”

“I think VMware is investing three to five years out,” said Gary Chen, research manager for enterprise virtualization software at IDC. “Today people are in the early stages of building cloud -- there’s hardly anyone out there that’s gotten to cloud yet... I don’t think it’s one of these things that people are going to jump on today, but if you look at the maturity curve for cloud I think it’s more toward the end.”

The move may also be an appeal to higher levels of executive management at existing customer organizations.

“VMware already has great exposure at the front line of IT, starting with the guys that are deep down in the data center… right on up to the CIO,” said Iams. “Now they need to really get established in organizations for the long term, they need to make that connection with the people responsible for the business… the people that deal with the revenue of the company. [Digital Fuel] bridges the IT group with the business units and opens a portal for VMware to get to a new set of constituents.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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