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The software defined datacenter

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It went through the press recently: “VMware to acquire Nicira, a network infrastructure company.” But why should a virtualization company buy a network specialist, especially as VMware maintains a strong partnership with Cisco, one of the worlds leading network equipment vendors?

The answer can be found in VMware’s vision which was announced at this year’s VMworld’s keynote by Pat Gelsinger:

VMware wants to become the operating system for datacenters. They call this the software defined data center and define it by the following three criteria:

  1. All components of the infrastructure are virtualized.
  2. They are delivered automated, as a service.
  3. The automation is done completely by software.

In a nutshell, this reads like yet another definition of cloud computing in a data center context.

In today’s data center infrastructure, we see three types of core components:

  • Compute
  • Network
  • Storage

Virtualizing compute power is VMware’s home ground. That’s what they do; that’s what they are known for. Since the announcement of vCloud Director, they can also claim to provide the necessary software to deliver virtual machines (VM) as a service, or enable providers to do so. Software defined computing power is available today!

However, as Pat Gelsinger pointed out in his VMworld keynote, that’s only half of the journey. Once you have your virtual machine provisioned, you still need the supporting components to be able to fully consume the service. Having a VM provisioned in minutes doesn’t help if you then need to wait days (or even weeks) for the required firewall settings.

In this context, the acquisition of Nicira makes a lot of sense! Nicira, a company that specializes in software defined networks addresses exactly this issue. I am sure we will see a lot of Nicira’s technology in the next release of vCloud Director or in other new VMware products in the upcoming year. Including Nicira’s capabilities to provision network functions automated by software into VMware, is the logical next step to the operating system for datacenters.

What about storage?

Storage virtualization automation has been around for years, in one form or another. I am not sure if we will see VMware do acquisitions in that space, especially as VMware is owned by EMC². However, the vision of a software defined datacenter seems tempting also for storage companies. NetApp CEO Tom Georgens stated at VMworld that NetApp wants to be for storage what VMware is for servers.

Summary

VMware tries to counter recent attacks by Microsoft and Red Hat to its core business of server virtualization by a compelling vision of the operating system for the data center. I do agree that the software defined datacenter will be the datacenter layout of the future. However, I strongly believe that not only VMware will be capable to achieve this vision in the near future, Microsoft, IBM or Red Hat bring their products into shape, too. What was declared as the hypervisor war turns out to be the battle for the datacenter!

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