“May you live in interesting times…” – Ancient Chinese curse/proverb

These are indeed interesting times for all of us, particularly so for IT as it undergoes one of the bigger changes in its young history. And this change permeates all aspects of IT: datacenters, clients, and even application development. The goal of this new community site is to provide a forum for discussing these changes. My hope is that we’ll all be able to help the industry navigate through and fully benefit from this transition.

Next Tuesday I have the privilege of presenting the VMworld kickoff keynote with our CEO Paul Maritz. We’ll share our vision for cloud computing and how the “New IT Stack” must be delivered across three distinct layers:

  1. Integrated Infrastructure
  2. An Application Platform
  3. A New User-Provisioning Layer

Each of these areas is incredibly interesting and evolving rapidly… VMware alone has hundreds of engineers working on these along with thousands of engineers from numerous partners at each layer. In the coming weeks and months, VMware CTO Office members will elaborate on our thinking across all of them. More importantly, I hope many of you will challenge assumptions, ask questions, and contribute many of your own thoughts as to where the industry is headed.

This inaugural post is longer than future ones will be, as I’d like to share the motivating backdrop for this discussion, based on numerous customer and partner anecdotes.

The Rise of Enterprise Cloud Computing

As stated earlier, we are clearly experiencing the rise of a new era in IT, a shift as big as the one that moved us from mainframe to client-server computing to the web.  The web completely changed the way we think about consuming services over the Internet, but that was only half of the picture.  The other half is how those services are delivered. That is the focus of cloud computing, and that is the focus of VMware.

What is the origin of this change? Certainly the prevalence of powerful processors, more ubiquitous networking, and virtualization have enabled it, but I believe it is actually more of the business aspects of IT driving the change. Companies typically spend 70% of their IT budgets just on keeping their datacenters going… replacing failed components, troubleshooting outages, repelling security attacks, and doing other tasks that aren’t core to the mission of the business. Particularly during recent years of recession, this waste has become even more evident with CEOs and CFOs clearly wanting change. The allure of cloud computing is to shift much of this 70% towards activities that move the business forward… creating new applications that generate revenue, make them more competitive, or improve the quality of life for employees.

There are other changes also driving the move to cloud computing. First, the rise of public cloud offerings such as Amazon’s EC2 have, for the first time, made a rate card for basic IT services publicly available. For 7 cents an hour, you can have compute resources and for 10 cents per month you can have a GB of storage. These numbers push CEOs to ask awkward questions of the IT department… how much do you cost for these same services? Could I do better by pulling these services out of my IT department?

Secondly, these new services are “pay as you go”. Rather than make a large up-front capital outlay, you pay only for those resources that you consume. This is particularly attractive to new companies who can launch their businesses and more easily grow as they begin to make revenue.

And thirdly, we’re all experiencing a radical change in our personal consumption of computing capabilities. I can now instantly buy music, movies, and applications for my client devices. I can instantly sign up for email, and I can obtain goods with an online swipe of my credit card. This self-service ability is incredible. I don’t have to wait on anyone and have near instant gratification. The contrast between this and self-service and how IT works for many employees is stark. It can take days or even weeks from the time I request a server, some storage, or a new development environment until it is available for me. We’re expecting our IT departments to be more like these consumer services that we’re using, and this is also a promise of cloud computing.

Now, while there are these consumption needs driving IT to change, there is also a growing set of challenges for IT to deal with in production of these services. First, IT is held responsible for the availability and performance of IT-supported applications. In a world where more applications are served from datacenters outside of IT’s direct control, it’s harder to guarantee these service levels. Perhaps more top of mind are the security implications of putting company data and intellectual property outside of the direct control of the company. Right or wrong, there is concern that others may have access to critical company resources in this new world, and that causes many to hesitate. Related, there are more and more regulations facing many industries… SOX, HIPAA, and PCI, for example. In many cases, the organizations that provide these certifications are not ready for the brave new world of data living outside of the company’s direct ownership.  And behind all of this is a requirement that existing application and infrastructure investments aren’t thrown out as we move to a brave new world. Quite a daunting set of challenges

Private, Public, or a Mix?

For these reasons and others, we’ve seen the rise of many different sorts of clouds. Most commonly discussed are public clouds, offerings from outside of a company’s datacenter walls that serve the business. The worries over service levels, security, and compliance have led to discussions of private clouds, new approaches to traditional IT where applications still run within the company’s datacenter walls, but are consumed in more of a public cloud-like fashion. It seems fairly clear that most mid- and large-sized enterprises will have a hybrid cloud environment and that each will manage this split differently; they’ll create their own private cloud that makes them more efficient and responsive while still maintaining the control that they require. They’ll also leverage public cloud offerings as the economics make sense and as the vendors offer higher levels of compatibility and control. With VMs as the lingua franca of both cloud types, each company will be able to choose the split between private and public clouds that best meets their needs, and move to cloud computing in an evolutionary way.

VMware’s Approach to Integrated Infrastructure

So how does VMware plan to attack this? We refer to our efforts here as VMware Cloud Infrastructure and Management, and we have three primary activities under way:

  1. Turn existing datacenters into “private clouds”: Virtualization goes a long way towards making today’s datacenters more efficient, elastic, and scalable. We are building offerings upon this virtualized foundation that deliver on the additional key traits of clouds, namely self-service consumption models and chargeback or metered-usage. We are focused on servers and blades based on industry-standard x86 processors to provide the horsepower for these clouds. The end result will be the creation of a “private cloud” that brings many of the benefits of cloud computing to the enterprise while still giving CIOs complete control over their applications and data where control includes the ability to provide availability and performance guarantees AND to keep all of their data and IP in-house. This ability to reap the benefits of cloud computing without re-writing applications or relinquishing control allows the adoption of new technology in a more evolutionary way than previously possible.
  2. Create an ecosystem of compatible “public clouds”: The next leg of our strategy is to offer software to hosters, service providers, telcos, outsourcers, and other owners of external datacenters that lets them offer computational capabilities to the enterprise. We base this software offering on the same VMware vSphere and vCenter product offerings as well, and the beauty of this approach is that it is compatible with what companies are doing within their own datacenters. VMs are completely portable to these “public clouds”, and they’ll get the same levels of availability and performance guarantees when they run them here. Along the way, we get to incorporate the learnings that come with being used in these public clouds, ultimately helping our products perform in the private cloud context.
  3. Develop technologies that connect private and public clouds: It’s clear that most IT departments will have a mix of public and private cloud assets under their purview; VMware itself runs our private cloud for many business applications, but we also leverage more than 20 Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings that complement the ones we’re running ourselves. We see a great opportunity to connect the private and public clouds in interesting ways including common management and monitoring tools, via storage replication, and with seamless network naming. The end goal will be even more choice for a company as to how much of their infrastructure runs inside and outside of their datacenter, and an ability to maintain appropriate levels of control as they do so.

Each of these activities are very large topics in their own right, and we’ll spend substantial time discussing them within this community.

And Beyond the Integrated Infrastructure…

The above discussion largely focuses on the datacenter and traditional server-based applications. The move towards cloud computing changes far more than just this space. In subsequent articles I’ll be discussing radical transitions that are also occurring in the next two layers of the stack… a new platform for cloud application development as well as a new approach to provisioning applications to users, regardless of where they are or what devices and gadgets they are using.

I hope you enjoy the exciting times ahead, and thanks again for participating in the VMware CTO Office community… with the keyword being “participating”!