VMworld 2010. Two trends and how they converge.

You may have missed it in the flurry of news from Apple, but VMware recently had their annual get-together at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. On stage VMware shared two key insights: successful virtualization is becoming more about orchestration and automation than about hypervisors.  And, private clouds will rapidly develop into hybrid clouds. I agree on both but believe the combination of these two trends has some distinct consequences that did not get picked up by the media.

Let me start with a disclaimer and some disclosure. I followed the event not on-site but through the California blogosphere reporting on the event, and I work for CA Technologies.

A third trend, by the way, was that more and more vendors (like VMware last week and CA Technologies back in May) resort to using a professional comedian to introduce the concept of cloud computing at their annual customer events.  Somehow IT became so complex we need animations and comedians to explain what we sell. Makes you think – doesn’t it? Imagine Steve Jobs having to ask Jerry Seinfield to explain the iPod.

Of course, we at CA Technologies agree with VMware on the importance of management, but given we are a company making  a living out of selling IT management and IT automation solutions on top of many different platforms, you might say it is a pretty safe bet for us to agree. Embracing the hybrid cloud as a strategy is a bit more of a risky bet for vendors. Private cloud is a great name for marketing reasons. Private sounds safe, while public sounds kind of … well, public or unsecure and scary. And even though many technical people understand that once you can provision automatically into a private cloud you can provision into any cloud, the typical corporate IT buyer and his partner in buying decisions – the CFO – are still quit conservative.

So, embracing hybrid clouds so wholeheartedly is quite a step for a company that just overcame a similar fear of the unknown – a fear that plagued virtualization.  And to celebrate this hybrid cloud idea VMware even decided not build a private cloud on site, like the datacenter under the stairs of the Moscone center they built last year (which was already a step up from the traditional datacenter that historically is located in a basement).

But unfortunately, cloud computing is not just about hybrid cloud, which was roughly defined at VMworld as having VMware installed in your own datacenter and in the datacenter of your cloud providers.  It is about a hybrid world, where providers run many different kinds infrastructure and platforms if it economically makes sense to do so. How hybrid this new world is was actually acknowledged when Maritz talked about SaaS (Software as a Service). He mentioned that VMware is running 15 SaaS applications, none of which he approved, and none of which they have managed to get under single sign-on yet. The question is, of course, how organizations should address these “rogue applications” and how organizations can gain insight into what they use and who they use it from. At CA Technologies, we see this as an important problem. In response, we teamed up with Carnagie Mellon University to start the Service Measurement Index (SMI) and cloudcommons.com.  Cloud Commons is an independent community that allows you to keep track of what is available in the market, and SMI gives you a way to measure and compare IT services you are using internally and from the cloud.

Since Maritz is a former Microsoft executive, the statements most quoted by the media were the ones referencing Microsoft and Windows.  For Maritz it is no longer about the hypervisor, it is about the application platform. And in my personal view, his eyes are set firmly on replacing Windows, not Hyper-V.  Now, ambition is good, but at the same time, one should be careful not to throw away any old shoes before the new ones fit comfortably. Currently many VM implementations stall at about 40% (as my colleague Andi Mann discussed recently on CIO.com), which compared to early Windows deployments may seem great, but is not good enough for today’s standards. Plus – in my personal opinion – the last thing the corporate world is waiting for is the next Windows. The experience of living through the last one – all the way from 3.1 to 7.0 – was bad enough.  Cloud computing finally promises a way to consume services without having to worry about maintaining a platform.

That is what cloud management for end-users should focus on (which entails a lot more than a self-service portal where users can pick PC configurations). At the same time, providers will need extremely robust, flexible and easy-to-deploy platforms to render these services, but given how new this industry is and how diverse these services are, these provider platforms will need to be hybrid and diverse.

Tomorrow’s cloud will be as hybrid as today’s datacenter, so we better get used to it. It’s called consumerisation, and with end user departments going out to procure complete cloud services – like SaaS-based CRM – it goes way beyond “bring your iPad to work” days. What we need in IT is a mind shift from thinking we can provide all of the IT our users will ever need, to finding a way to help our users consume all of the IT they could ever want (in a safe, secure and cost-effective way). We call this moving from being the manager of the IT factory to being the orchestrator of the IT supply chain.

This blog is cross-posted at http://ca.com/blogs
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