The 10 Biggest Virtualization Stories Of 2013

Virtualization Playing Key Behind The Scenes Role

Virtualization is the key underpinning technology for cloud computing, but it's starting to lose its identity as a distinct market segment, at least on the server side. Yet in other areas, like desktops, mobile devices and user profiles, virtualization is still a market with plenty in the gas tank.

We're not hearing many startups even using the word "virtualization" to describe what they do, but behind the scenes, the cloud-enabling technology continues to make all kinds of useful things possible.

The action in the virtualization these days is centered on solving bring-your-own-device challenges and the storage bottlenecks that have kept the virtual desktop space from fully blooming.

Following are CRN's top 10 stories of the year in the virtualization market.

10. Amazon Gets Into The Virtual Desktop Market

The virtual desktop market has kind of been sputtering for years due to technical complexity and cost issues. But Amazon Web Services thinks it has a way to take all that heavy lifting away in the form of a new, clean packaged service.

In November, AWS unveiled Workspaces, a service that lets customers rent access to virtual desktops running in the AWS cloud for a monthly fee. It's a bit pricey, starting at $35 per user monthly for a basic package with one virtual CPU and 50 GB of storage, but AWS says it can deliver consistent performance.

AWS also claims that Workspaces costs about half what most companies are spending today to deploy virtual desktops. We'll have to wait and see if AWS can crack into a market where VMware and Citrix and others are well established, but Workspaces is nothing if not ambitious.

9. VMware Acquires Desktone As Part Of End-User Computing Offensive

VMware is facing saturation in the server virtualization market, so it's searching for new revenue by making end-user computing a primary focus. The jury is still out on this effort, as end-user computing hasn't been nearly as successful for VMware as its core server virtualization business.

In August, VMware hired former SAP executive Sanjay Poonen to lead the end-user computing charge, and in October it acquired Desktone, a desktop-as-a-service vendor and longtime partner. Desktone's DaaS assets combined with VMware's Horizon View desktop virtualization software "will significantly accelerate VMware's DaaS strategy," Poonen said in a blog post following the deal's announcement. Desktone sells to service providers as opposed to end users, which is a good fit for VMware's model. VMware has 11,000-plus service providers, and Desktone will help its DaaS business develop "much faster than many of our competitors," Poonen said in the blog post.

8. Software-Defined Data Center Becomes A Thing

While VMware coined the term "software-defined data center," the idea behind it is something all enterprise vendors are talking about these days. That's because virtualizing networks, storage and security are seen as the last barriers to a full-on cloud experience that takes IT to the next level of efficiency.

A big part of VMware's vision for SDDC is called vSAN, a storage feature currently in beta that combines its own in-house technology with that of storage startup Virsto, which it acquired earlier this year. Ask any VMware partner about vSAN and it becomes immediately apparent how potentially huge this technology could be.

VMware vSAN pools together storage capacity from Flash and solid-state drives and lets it function as a virtual storage area network. Because software handles the heavy lifting, admins can set policies for how storage is allocated through a simple process akin to setting up a virtual machine.

7. Mobile Virtualization, MDM Compete To Solve BYOD Challenges

Vendors have talked for years about using virtualization to split smartphones into work and personal parts, in order to solve the security and management issues of the bring-your-own-device craze. But since Apple does not allow iOS to be virtualized, this approach has so far been limited to Android devices. Plus, there are also some drawbacks to using hypervisors on smartphones.

While mobile device management can tackle the same security issues, secure mobile workspace products are starting to catch on as a way to solve the technical challenges with features like enterprise-grade authentication, encryption and VPN. Mobile application management is also gaining momentum as a way to solve thorny BYOD issues.

As more smartphones flood into the enterprise, vendors are going to be trying every angle to address the security and management issues and keep the BYOD productivity party going at full blast.

6. IBM Sees Big Potential In KVM Open Source Virtualization

The Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor only works with x86 processors, but IBM has far bigger visions for what KVM can mean in the enterprise. Earlier this year, IBM said it started engineering work on making KVM work with its Power processors, and it looks like the company is on track to deliver on this goal sometime next year.

Jim Wasko, director of the IBM Linux Technology Center, told ZDNet in early December the KVM-Power project is "going fairly well" and is "no longer an experiment."

"The code is at engineering level quality now, so 2014 is a reasonable target for it to appear in Linux distributions," Wasko told ZDNet.

5. VMware's Executive Exodus

VMware saw a number of key executives leave this year, starting with CTO Steve Herrod, who left in January to become managing director at General Catalyst, a venture capital firm with offices in Cambridge, Mass., and Palo Alto, Calif.

Then VMware channel chief Doug Smith, who'd spent 15 years at VMware and parent EMC, left in April to become vice president of global partner sales at Virtual Instruments, a San Jose, Calif.-based cloud management startup.

Other notable departures included CMO Rick Jackson, who left in July to become CMO at Rackspace, and Bogomil Balkansky, the cloud vice president who also left in July amid rumors he was joining VMware Diane Greene's stealthy cloud startup.

4. Microsoft-VMware Virtualization Battle

Microsoft and VMware, the Hatfields and McCoys of the enterprise data center, spent the year trading barbs, as they've done for what seems like millennia at this point.

In February, VMware COO Carl Eschenbach had this to say about Microsoft virtualization in an interview with CRN: "Microsoft HyperV. You know how much it costs? It is free. So I don't know how you make margin off of free. Microsoft goes into our channel partners and says, 'I'll give you $5,000 to go deploy HyperV into your account. You can't sell it, but I'll give you money to go do it.'"

In March, Microsoft marketing executive Amy Barzdukas described VMware's vCloud Hybrid Service as "just another example of how IT vendors have been rearranging the furniture to more effectively deliver what they already have on the shelf." And in October, Microsoft rolled out a virtualization certification program aimed at VMware Certified Professionals (VCPs), VMware's most popular certification program. The goal? To "help" VMware experts stay relevant once Hyper-V takes over the data center.

3. Citrix Open-Sources XenServer

Citrix Systems in June moved its XenServer virtualization technology to the open-source community and started pursuing a Red Hat-like model of providing management and support. This included some of the proprietary technology Citrix has added to XenServer since it acquired XenSource in 2007, and Citrix partners saw this as an important shift in the vendor's thinking.

Citrix started down this path last year when it stopped supporting OpenStack and moved its own CloudStack offering to the Apache Software Foundation. By open-sourcing XenServer, Citrix is showing it's willing to shake things up and try a new approach.

2. Cisco Acquires SDN 'Spin-In' Insieme Networks

Cisco made its long-awaited entry into the software-defined networking space in November, acquiring its "spin-in" company Insieme Networks for $863 million.

Cisco calls Insieme "application-centric infrastructure," and by that it means that the overlay approaches to SDN used by VMware, Big Switch Networks and other rivals aren't suitable for the rigors of enterprise usage. Cisco also unveiled a new line of Nexus switches that support Insieme's technology.

The big question now is, will Cisco succeed in its bid to reshape the SDN market around its own need to continue selling high-end hardware? SDN is supposed to democratize networking by letting companies run on commodity hardware, and that's a scenario that Cisco would clearly like to avoid.

1. VMware Launches NSX, Its Horse In The SDN Race

At VMworld in August, VMware took the wraps off its SDN offering, called NSX, which uses technology acquired in its $1.2 billion acquisition of Nicira last July.

VMware also listed some 20 vendors that had already signed up to be part of the NSX ecosystem, as well as early (and big) customers like eBay, GE and Citi. "This is the coming out party for network virtualization," VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger (pictured) gushed in his VMworld keynote. However, Cisco wasn't one of the 20 vendors listed, and people kind of freaked out about that. Then Cisco Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior, in a blog post, called out NSX's lack of support for multiple-hypervisor environments and other faults.

Nevertheless, VMware executives assured folks that its longtime partnership with Cisco would not be damaged by its entry to Cisco's market. "We are going to do everything in our power to continue building the partnership with Cisco," Gelsinger said in a press conference at the event.