VMware shared a pretty astounding statistic this past Tuesday when it rolled out vSphere 5. It stated that 50% of application workloads will be virtualized by the end of 2011 with that ratio continuing to grow at a rate of 10% per year for the next few years. That’s pretty remarkable considering ten years ago when I proposed starting to virtualize my prior company’s infrastructure that I was scoffed at by many of my peers.
There are any number of reasons why ten years ago people scoffed at my idea to start virtualizing my company’s environment. But the reasons that I cited as to why my company needed to embark upon a path toward virtualization still hold true today. Further, what I saw at that time, and which is becoming more evident with every passing day, is that applications that are NOT virtualized will be the exception not the rule.
Yet it is ironic that when I went to VMware’s website last night as I prepared for this blog entry, the slogan I saw on its website was:
You know what that implicitly tells me? People today do not yet trust the cloud even as they did not trust in its early form ten years ago. (Anyone remember the phrase “storage utility”?)
Frankly, ten years ago I did not trust the storage utility in its early form. At that time I could not answer some of the thornier questions that were thrown at me by my counterparts as to how virtualization (server or storage) would behave in a mission critical environment.
For instance, I had to field questions such as:
- If a server has multiple paths (say 8) to a storage subsystem, how does that work when the storage system is virtualized?
- If virtualized storage is presented to separate AIX, Linux, UNIX, and Windowsservers on the same physical port, does that always work? Always??
- Are all of the port flags on the storage array set correctly and is working in someone else’s environment who I can call and verify that with?
I could not answer yes to those questions at the time because I did not know. Further most of the vendors providing these storage solutions did not know either. So the status quo prevailed.
This is what I strongly suspect VMware is running up against as it has to deal with similar questions as it moves up the application stack. Granted, VMware proudly proclaimed in its webinar this past Tuesday that its OS is being used to host more business critical applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint, SQL Server, and Oracle. But as that occurs, I can just see skeptical, battle-hardened IT managers who have been burned one too many times looking their VMware reps square in the eye and asking:
- If I virtualize applications running on Linux and Windows OSes on a VMware server and each of these applications needs multi-pathing does that always work?
- Are you sure VMware makes all of the interoperability issues go away? Are you absolutely sure?
- If I have a virtualization application that has its data spread across 2 or 3 arrays from different vendors, does that work?
Those sort of questions have to make those at VMware squirm just a bit. While VMware may want to say that with virtualization all of those issues are virtualized away, it is never that easy or simple when you get into enterprise environments when a single application outage may result in millions of dollars of lost revenue or garners headlines on the evening news.
VMware is admittedly probably already doing this in many environments. But this slogan tell me it recognizes it has an uphill battle to convince corporate IT that it is ready to assume the rest of these workloads. VMware is probably coming to find out if it does not know already that once you get into some of their environments, it is rarely Plug-N-Play but more like Plug-n-Pray.
All of the testing in the world cannot prepare you for the idiosyncrasies that each of these environments is bound to have and that VMware is going to encounter first hand and for the first time. To VMware’s credit it admittedly already has a lot of experience to draw upon as it prepares to fight these battles.
But every enterprise has its skeleton applications in the closet that, as VMware runs across and virtualizes them, will likely cause even those internal to VMware to shake their heads and marvel how these enterprises have operated all of this time in the state they are in.
VMware painted an exciting picture of the future this week and I do firmly believe that VMware will evolve to become more than just a provider of virtualization software but a key enabler of the cloud. But VMware’s biggest journey may yet lie in front of it.
It now needs to convince people that it is time to trust the cloud. Whether or not VMware succeeds in persuading enterprises of that concept remains to be seen but if VMware does (and it is arguably in the best position to do so) then we will likely in the next few years see what my former colleagues thought was ludicrous less than a decade ago.