VMware Preps Software-Defined Data Center For Its Star Turn

At VMworld this year, VMware is laying the foundation for what it hopes will be its next big thing: the software-defined data center.

In the software-defined data center, servers, storage and networking are virtualized and delivered as a service. VMware says pooling these resources together and automating them is the key to more efficient private, public and hybrid clouds.

The software-defined data center, or SDDC, is VMware's attempt to adopt a more Google-like infrastructure, in which apps can be provisioned faster and workloads can run in any type of cloud, Peter Wei, product marketing lead for VMware's cloud infrastructure business unit, said in an interview prior to VMworld.

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VMware already owns the server virtualization market. Now it's trying to duplicate that success in storage and network virtualization, two segments that are still essentially up for grabs. If VMware pulls this off, it'll quiet critics who say the vendor's dominance of the data center is waning.

"We're definitely getting a lot of customer interest in planning or starting network and storage virtualization," Wei told CRN.

But the term "software-defined data center" still doesn't mean much to a large swath of VMware customers. Several VMware partners CRN reached out to before VMworld declined to comment on the SDDC strategy, claiming they needed more time to figure out what it means to them.

To help clarify the technology, VMware is flexing its marketing muscles, plastering San Francisco city bus stops with software-defined data center signage -- and probably confusing the vast majority of daily commuters.

Another potential roadblock to SDDC is that not all organizations have virtualized their servers yet. For these firms, the notion of running their IT operations virtually might seem like too much of a risk, one VMware partner told CRN.

"'Too many eggs in one basket' will be a common argument when we start abstracting the storage and networking away from dedicated physical boxes," said the partner, who asked not to be identified to avoid offending VMware. "There is also a huge stability worry that the SDDC will have to tackle -- one that storage and networking vendors have worked long and hard to squash."

At VMworld, VMware will looking to show that SDDC is a must-have technology. A big piece of this is vSAN, a new storage feature that combines technology VMware built in-house with technology from its February acquisition of storage startup Virsto.

VSAN pools together storage capacity from Flash and solid state drives and lets it function as a virtual storage area network. With software handling the heavy lifting, admins can set policies for how storage is allocated as easily as setting up a virtual machine, Wei said.

NEXT: More Details About vSAN, Network Virtualization

Provisioning also is simple with vSAN: Admins can scale to the capacity they need by adding attached physical storage, Wei said. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and test/dev are two ideal use cases for vSAN, he added.

VMware started running a private beta of vSAN in the second quarter and plans to launch a public beta in the third quarter, Wei said. VMware does not have a time frame for general availability.

Jason Nash, data center solutions principal at Varrow, a Greensboro, N.C.-based VMware partner, calls vSAN a storage "game-changer" in the mold of Nutanix and ScaleIO, the latter of which EMC acquired in July.

What's important about vSAN is that it's built into the hypervisor and allows for easy storage policy configuration, Nash said. "We're getting asked about scale-out storage solutions, and one enticing characteristic of vSAN is that it's built in to vSphere and doesn't add any complexity," he told CRN in an email.

VMware also is unveiling NSX network virtualization software, which combines its own vCloud Networking and Security (vCNS) technology with that of Nicira, the startup it bought for $1.2 billion last July.

NSX turns the high-end functions of switches, routers, firewalls and load-balancers into software that can run on commodity hardware. VMware also is rolling out the NSX API, a new RESTful API that lets NSX integrate with network and application services, and cloud management platforms, from third-party vendors.

Virtual servers have been VMware's ticket to data center riches, and the Palo Alto, Calif., vendor is making them bigger and more scalable with vSphere 5.5, the latest update to its flagship product.

VMware has doubled CPU, memory and non-uniform memory access (NUMA) nodes. VMware is pitching a new feature called vSphere Big Data Extensions as a way to run Hadoop and other big data apps while taking advantage of features such as vMotion and DRS, Wei said.

"The key message here is that we plan to virtualize all types of workloads," Wei told CRN. "New workloads, and legacy ones, will all run well on vSphere 5.5."