I spent longer than I typically do at a conference last week when I went to VMworld. It was quite an active event — lots of customers, lots of cloud technology providers, and lots of integrators. What I took away from the conference where three major observations: the customers attending the conference are busily virtualizing servers; VMware is trying hard to position itself for leadership in the both virtualization and the cloud; well-established vendors are deepening their relationship with VMware while emerging vendors are trying to either fill a void or knock an existing leader out of the ring.
One of the things that really stood out for me was the stage of maturity of the customers. In speaking with attendees, it was clear to me that many of the VMware customers are in the early stages of moving to the cloud. In fact, most of them are not even thinking about clouds — other than rain clouds. The people attending this year’s event are typical of an emerging market. They are the hard core developers who have to deal with technology without the benefit of levels of abstraction. These are hard working developers who have deep expertise in virtualizing servers. Many of these developers have gained a lot of benefit from some of the key innovations that VMware has made over the years. One excellent example is VMware’s product called Vmotion which enables a developer to migrate a running virtual machine from one physical server to another with no service disruption. I started thinking about what implementing virtualization means to developers. I got thinking about this because I picked up a handy little guide at the conference called vSphere 4.0 Quick Start Guide Shortcuts down the path to Virtualization . What struck me from glancing through the book was the level of programming required configure and implement virtual machines. It is not for the faint hearted. Yes, when you’re done with the hard work of separating the software environment from the hardware, magic starts to happen.
It was interesting to juxtapose this bottoms up virtualization focus with emerging cloud technologies. Cloud computing is clearly emerging as a strategy for many of the vendors and many of the bosses of the participants at the conference. The cloud leverages virtualization as an enabler of the cloud but it is clearly the beginning and not the end. We have seen this so many times before with so many technology trends. You start with the sophisticated developers who want to work at the metal. They get great performance and great benefit for their companies. And then, technology matures and gets abstracted. Here is a good example. In the really, really early days of graphical interfaces, sophisticated programmers wanted nothing to do with an abstracted interface. The command line interface was the one and only way to go. After all, this command level interface gave them control that they could not image having from a graphical interface. How many programmers today would go back to a command line interface? (probably a few — but no one’s perfect).
So, I was left with the feeling that we are in between generations of technology at this year’s VMworld. The old world of virtualizing servers is about to be surplanted by the world of abstracting the data center itself. Virtualization is one of the pillars of this transformation but it not the end game.