Last week at VMworld was an eye-opening experience for me on multiple levels.
I thought I was doing well to get four posts out around specific announcements made at VMworld, only to be completely schooled by my EMC colleague Chad Sakac. If you haven't read his posts, you should.
Since that event, I've had time to think and reflect on everything I saw and heard. For me, VMworld 2011 marked the clear recognition that VMware has become the next great data center operating system.
Almost like a line of demarcation, that week in Las Vegas made it very clear that one era was coming to a close, and the next one was in full swing.
What Do I Mean?
By "data center operating system", I mean an operating environment that can run all traditional data center workloads -- the easy ones, the hard ones, the secure ones, the high availability ones, the end-user ones, etc.
By that standard, VMware would be the third data center operating system. IBM's MVS on mainframes was the first. AT&T UNIX and its many derivatives were the second. And VMware vSphere++ represents the third.
Some would argue that I've unfairly excluded Microsoft's server operating systems from this lofty status. While these products have been very successful in data center settings, I don't consider them in the same do-it-all category as the other three. And, at least for me, Linux is simply a linear extension of familiar UNIX principles and architectures.
When I Was A Young Lad
When I did my Comp Sci gig at UC Santa Cruz, the language of choice was C and the operating system of choice was UNIX BSD 4.1 -- that was, unless you were in Frank Deremer's class learning Ada :(
Upon graduation, though, I ended up in a classic mainframe shop doing systems programming and COBOL grinding on a time-shared mainframe. It wasn't long before I gained an appreciation for all the amazing and powerful things you could do with the tools at hand.
Think of something you wanted to get done -- and it had not only been done before, there were probably at least a half-dozen different approaches. You could work at a high level, you could work at a low level, you had the power to make a horrible mess of things which I did several times.
Like a kid wandering around in a huge hardware store, I'd spend my evenings writing little test programs to explore what various features did -- until my boss got the bill from the time-sharing outfit. Oops.
A few years later, the first UNIX boom began in earnest. Silicon Valley was awash in UNIX startups of all sorts -- this was the era of the NCR Tower, Altos, SCO, Pyramid, Arete, Sequent and more. I ended up working at Convergent Technologies, mostly on the UNIX side -- MegaFrame, MiniFrame and MightyFrame followed by the first Intel 386-based UNIX servers.
If MVS was a hardware store with thousands of widgets to explore, UNIX was a clean toolbench. Simplicity ruled: everything was a file or a process. Things were made to be easily combined with a bit of scripting code. Most data was represented in a text file which could be programmatically searched or modified. Being a "UNIX user" meant you did your fair shair of scripting.
There also was a healthy business providing compatibility to the mainframe environment: Microfocus COBOL and 3270 emulators come to mind :)
As the UNIX boxes became bigger and more powerful, they moved to the core of the data center, and frequently became surrounded by Microsoft desktop and server products. This was the era of 2-tier and 3-tier client-server architectures.
Things got painfully complex during this time.
There were far too many operating systems, databases, languages, etc. for most IT shops to use effectively. Over time, IT found themselves spending way too much of their IT budget simply supporting the legacy that had grown up around them vs. investing in new capabilities that the business wanted.
VMware's first value proposition was breathtakingly simple: containerize the applications, abstract the infrastructure. The resulting infrastructure payback was immediate and compelling. VMware's second value proposition was operational: make IT easier to operate and consume. VMware's third value proposition is now providing application tools and environments that are designed for fully-virtualized clouds vs. simply adapted.
And with the emergence of VMware's fourth value proposition -- providing users with a more meaningful and productive experience -- the ascent to the status of "next generation data operating system" seems complete.
All that's left is a few migration details :)
Back To VMworld 2011
Every important industry transition has its passionate advocates -- without them, no technology would be adopted, no change would happen.
In some sense, VMworld is the gathering of the vFaithful -- those technology professionals who recognize the new paradigm, and have fully committed to accelerating its adoption. About 20,000 of them made the journey, countless hundreds of thousands likely followed over the web.
They came not only to learn the latest from VMware and its partner ecosystem, they also came to share their experiences with each other. To a certain extent, each faces similar challenges in weaning their organizations off the old way of doing things, and helping speed the transition to the new way of doing things.
Listen to them, and many of their stories and adventures are similar -- there's great confidence that emerges when you realize that everyone is going through the same sort of challenges as you are.
These are not your usual kool-aid drinkers -- they're generally steely-eyed pragmatic IT professionals.
They know their new environment isn't perfect, and there's more work to be done. They know that there will be problems and challenges and issues and dark days ahead. They take comfort that a $50B+ ecosystem of partners and vendors are pulling in their direction as well.
Their ultimate goal?
Put the new ideas to work as quickly as possible. Move their IT organizations from this phase of IT to the next one as quickly as possible. And -- in the end -- enable IT to spend far more time delivering value, and far less time dealing with complexity.
If you're an IT professional, this is heady stuff indeed.