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Top 3 issues facing VMware at VMworld 2011

VMware will have to deal with the vSphere 5 licensing fallout and push itself as a true cloud vendor at VMworld 2011.

The release of vSphere 5, though a highly anticipated occasion, will present some challenges for VMware.

By the time VMworld 2011 is over, VMware will have likely made vSphere 5 generally available. From that point onward, those customers unable to get into the beta program will have the opportunity to really kick the tires on VMware’s latest virtualization platform. 

VMware will need to inspire enthusiasm and interest in vSphere 5 among these customers. Things got off to a rocky start with the July 12 product launch, when VMware introduced virtual RAM (vRAM) licensing. Many observers saw that move as a public relations disaster that sadly over-shadowed the many good things to be said about vSphere 5.

Since then, VMware has waged a largely successful campaign to explain vRAM and revise the model, generously upping the amount of vRAM allowed in various vSphere 5 SKUs. These vSphere 5 licensing changes appear to have stemmed the flood of complaints -- many totally unjustified -- and VMworld 2011 offers the company a second chance to launch vSphere 5.

In the future, I think the vSphere 5 launch will be remembered as being the storage release. VSphere 4, the networking release, ushered in major changes to the networking stack in the form of distributed virtual switches and support for Cisco Systems’ Nexus 1000V. VSphere 5 introduces a whole new series of features at the storage layer: vSphere Replication in Site Recovery Manager 5, a virtual storage appliance, datastore clusters and storage profiles. I will be focusing my time on attending the VMworld sessions that have a storage tinge to them.

The second major issue that VMware has on its hands at VMworld 2011 is to convince the large numbers of ESX hypervisor users that ESXi is the way of the future. There will be sessions on migrating from ESX to ESXi and the new auto-deploy feature, which allows for stateless, diskless ESXi hosts, with the VMkernel delivered across the network via PXE booting.

The demise of ESX has been in the cards for some time, but many customers have resolutely stuck their heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge the inevitable change. I imagine some hoped that VMware would backpedal on the position it’s been holding for more than two years. They will be out of luck. At VMworld 2011, VMware will have to do some work to pry ESX and its service console from some people’s cold, dead hands. In short, I expect some attendees to look like Charlton Heston at a National Rifle Association rally.

The third challenge VMware will face at VMworld 2011 will be winning the hearts and minds of customers around its new Cloud Infrastructure Suite. There have been various attempts by VMware to unshackle itself from the narrow remit of being a virtualization vendor. A couple years ago, the company was “greening the data center.” And then ESX was claimed to be the Virtual Data Center Operating System. This time around, VMware has labelled a collection of products announced in July as the Cloud Infrastructure Suite.

Right now it is difficult to see whether this move amounts to a PR-ready branding exercise, or if it is a genuine attempt to align a collection of products under a single SKU. VMware execs will want to re-enforce the idea that the company is an infrastructure vendor that sells a complete solution, not bundles of disparate products. They will also want to demonstrate that these products -- a mix of in-house and acquired tools -- actually play nice together and integrate. They might have their work cut out this year.

VMware also launched vCloud Director 1.5 in July, but many of its new features only plug outstanding gaps, such as the lack of a Linked Clones feature and the absence of Microsoft SQL Server support.

It’s hard to fire on all cylinders all the time, and VMware might struggle to emphasize its cloud suite whilst lauding praise upon vSphere 5. VMware rightly crows about the improvements to its virtualization platform, but at VMworld 2011, the company will find it difficult to shake off the tag of being just a virtualization vendor -- especially as vSphere remains its main revenue generator.

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