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VMware luminaries say virtualized environments lead to IT as a Service

Hall D in San Francisco’s Moscone Center was an electric mecca this week, as tens of thousands of IT professionals gathered to hear VMware Inc. luminaries discuss the future of IT as a Service at the VMworld keynote session. Upbeat music pulsed as the techies took their seats, and three giant screens projected images from a stage so wide that Steve Herrod, VMware’s chief technology officer, used a scooter to get from one side to the other. The slick presentation was theater at its corporate best, replete with relevant props, such as a cubicle warmed by a lava lamp.

This was VMware’s seventh annual shindig, and the statistics ticked off by Rick Jackson, VMware’s chief marketing officer, indicate that virtualization is growing like a popular religion. In 2004, 1,400 people attended the first VMworld conference, and by last year, the number of attendees had risen to 12,500. This year, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s goal was to lure 14,000 attendees, but it was blown away by the registration of 17,000 professionals from 85 countries looking to take advantage of virtualization technologies. And that’s just a fraction of the 195,000 customers worldwide who are engaged with VMware, he said. Customers are banding together in user groups to help each other adopt the technology that will transform their IT initiatives. To date, 50,000 members are involved in VMware user groups across 145 local chapters in 32 countries. This year, the groups inaugurated a board of directors who created a mission statement. Jackson invited attendees to join a local chapter or start a new one.

The theme of this year’s conference was Virtual Roads, Actual Clouds. It’s not about public vs. private, Jackson said: “What people want and need is a hybrid cloud environment.” Last year, VMware built a large private cloud to service its event, but this year, it put its money where its mouth is and built a hybrid cloud using Verizon and Terremark clouds on the East Coast connected via the Internet to a cloud in San Francisco. This platform provisioned 4,000 virtual machines an hour during the conference, for an expected total of 100,000 VMs.

The road to a hybrid cloud is a three-phase journey. In the first phase of virtualization — what VMware calls IT production — customers are averaging savings of 50% to 60% in capital expenditures, according to Jackson. The second phase, referred to as business production, is driven by quality of service with high availability and disaster recovery at a fraction of traditional costs. The average VMware customer is in this phase, he said. The third phase is the optimization of IT production for business consumption, which is the premise of IT as a Service. The goal is to quickly deliver business value. “The value proposition from Phase 3 of the journey significantly dwarfs phases 1 and 2,” Jackson said.

In 2009, IDC reported that the number of applications delivered on virtualized infrastructures exceeded those on physical hosts. “We are at a tipping point in the industry,” said Paul Maritz, VMware president and CEO. The tide is coming whether VMware is there or not, he said, predicting that in 2010, more than 10 million virtualized machines will be deployed, growing at 28% annually. The trend is evident in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to fashion, and spans the globe from dairy farms in India to large breweries in Eastern Europe, “to Tastykakes in Pennsylvania, which delivers satisfaction on top of a virtualized infrastructure,” Maritz said.

Two notable challenges are the integration of Software as a Service (SaaS) apps and mobile devices that have made their way uninvited into the corporate IT environment. It even happens at VMware: The company is using 15 SaaS apps that do not share single sign-on status. “I didn’t approve a single one of them,” Maritz said. Meanwhile there is an increasing heterogeneity of such devices as iPads that IT will have to support. “Ultimately, IT is going to be left holding the bag. Just as the PC came into the environment uninvited, IT will have to stitch them together in a manageable environment,” he said. What’s needed are automation, management and integrated security to make hybrid clouds a reality. The holy grail of porting data from one cloud to another will depend on faithful, open standards.

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