It was a memorable moment. Pat Gelsinger, the CEO of VMware , and Michael Dell, his largest shareholder, sat on a small riser in a large conference room somewhere deep inside the W Hotel in San Francisco. As the two fielded questions from a room full of industry analysts at the end of their long first day at VMworld, Gelsinger was asked whether it might be time to change the name of his company. Virtual Machines are passé, after all, and VMware focuses on so much more. The room laughed. Michael Dell smiled, nodding in appreciation of the thought, while Pat Gelsinger pursed his lips and carefully considered his response. There is a lot to contemplate in that deceptively simple question.
Barely two decades ago it was a different world. Microsoft , still under Bill Gates' steely control, ruled all things IT. As early variants of Windows Server rapidly displaced corporate UNIX licenses and proprietary mini-computers in the datacenter, Gelsinger was a general manager at Intel , laser-focused on turning the PC chip manufacturer into an enterprise player. The mini-computers that left the datacenter were most often replaced by an Intel-powered server, one quite frequently sporting a Dell badge on the bezel.
Virtualization in those days, outside of the mainframe world, was still very much an emergent and misunderstood technology. Few people outside of computer science academic circles were paying much attention to Mendel Rosenblum as he moved his virtualization work from his lab at Stanford University into a tiny start-up in Palo Alto. Nobody would have guessed what was to come.
Today, the technology industry is driving forward solutions that must tie together dozens of different architectures across innumerable variations of on-site, off-site, cloud, and edge. Rosenblum's little start-up? It is now the key to it all. It’s not an exaggeration to say that VMware stands at the center of the IT universe. The company’s software touches nearly every element of modern IT architecture. Dell Technologies likes to describe its own presence as extending “from the edge, to the core, to the cloud.” That’s a fantastic vision, but it’s one that requires a sophisticated software solution that can cohesively marry storage, compute, networking, and management across an increasingly diverse infrastructure. Thankfully for Dell, it owns most of VMware’s stock.
VMworld, which recently wrapped up in San Francisco, is ground-zero for spreading the gospel according to VMware. It's a testament to VMware's influence that over twenty thousand practitioners, partners, and even competitors, will travel far to gather and hear VMware’s vision of how to build IT infrastructure. Whether you deploy VMware’s products or not, the company guides the industry.
This year at VMworld, VMware set forth a clear agenda of what's important to IT. The story is all about living in a multi-cloud world with virtual machines filled with containers. It's about enabling unlikely partners to allow IT organizations to seamlessly build a virtual infrastructure that spans the breadth of the edge, the core, and the cloud. It’s also, for VMware, about showing off how it’s executing to that vision.
VMware Cloud on everything
Here’s a statistic that will blow your mind: VMWare powers more than ten million workloads in the cloud. As one VMware executive pointed out, this gives VMware a larger footprint in the cloud than Microsoft enjoys with Azure. It’s no wonder that VMware is doubling down on its investments and partnerships in the cloud.
VMware Cloud on AWS, jointly engineered with Amazon, brings push-button deployment of VMware's software-defined data center solutions to AWS. New features for VMware Cloud on AWS announced at VMworld deliver capabilities for greater VMware/AWS interoperability, including new support for elastic vSAN to improve storage scaling. vSAN is at the center of VMware’s converged infrastructure play, and elastic vSAN for AWS is a fantastic offering for AWS customers.
Dell announced earlier this summer at Dell Technologies World that it would be entering the datacenter-as-a-service market. VMworld made that announcement real. Dell's new offering tightly integrates VMware's vSphere, vSAN, and NSX technologies into a Dell EMC VxRail form-factor, and delivers that as a service. Dell’s new service offering is available in the US now and deploying worldwide very soon.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise was an early provider of datacenter-as-a-service offerings with its successful GreenLake consumption model. HPE and VMware jointly announced at VMworld a partnership that integrates VMware Cloud Foundation into both GreenLake and HPE's Synergy composable infrastructure solutions. The collaboration is a win for both HPE and VMware, not to mention their collective customers.
Beyond these announcements, there were product updates such as VMware's Foundation for Hybrid Cloud, which brings together vSAN and vSphere to provide HCI-like capabilities into the hybrid-cloud. VMware HCX enables new cloud migration capabilities. Dell and VMware are productizing disaster recovery-as-a-service. The new CloudHealth Hybrid service aides organizations in tracking and controlling expenses, compliance, and migration in hybrid-cloud environments.
There's more. VMware released an almost overwhelming number of cloud-focused enhancements to its portfolio. Whatever you're doing with cloud or hybrid-cloud, VMware is likely there. If not, the company has announced of its intentions to help you, wherever you are in your journey.
Cloud, distilled to its essence, is just a place to run workloads. For all of the complexity and concern that exists in bringing together traditional IT infrastructure and cloud-based services, it doesn't look that much different from traditional virtual machines. How we run and deploy those workloads, on the other hand, is rapidly shifting. It's a landscape dotted with containers, which are increasingly deployed and orchestrated by Kubernetes.
Pat Gelsinger, in his keynote, made it clear that VMware fully embraces the containerized world. He announced VMware’s Project Tanzu, which he described as a portfolio of products and services designed to transform the way enterprises build software for Kubernetes.
The first offering, Tanzu Mission Control, allows VMware customers to manage Kubernetes across environments. More revolutionary is VMware’s Product Pacific. Now in tech preview release, Product Pacific unifies VMware vSphere and Kubernetes by offering management APIs and abstractions to each of those environments from the unified vSphere management plane.
Embracing containers is a significant directional shift from the VMware of even a few years ago, when the company viewed containers with no small amount of skepticism. I applaud VMware for recognizing where the winds of the industry are blowing and embracing change. It’s good for VMware but, more importantly, it’s good for the industry. IT wins when the industry is consistent in the solutions it collectively offers.
I could write pages about VMworld. There were dozens of announcements at the conference, ranging from those I touched on here, to virtualized NVIDIA GPUs for deep learning in the cloud, to a slew of virtualized networking offers. I’ve highlighted just enough to illustrate where VMware is focusing its energy, and the collective energy of the IT industry, as it navigates forward.
VMware has been more than a virtualization company for a very long time. It is a hungry innovator that wants to help you manage your workloads and data wherever those resources exist, giving you a single view of your enterprise in the process.
VMware’s vision is ambitious–almost as ambitious as making Intel’s 1990’s era processors ubiquitous in the data center, or even turning a mail-order build-to-order PC company into the world’s most dominant enterprise technology company. Pat and Michael have already proven they can deliver on nearly inconceivable visions.
Back in the analyst room, after Pat Gelsinger took a moment to consider my peer’s question about the name of his company, he said, quite simply, that "we prefer to focus on the 'ware' side of our name." Indeed, VMware does.