The distinctions between internal and external IT resources may still be real for many companies, but VMware is pitching to make them disappear.
Here's an interesting question: when does a defined technology such as virtualization cease to be a label worthy of retention?
The question arose at this week's VMworld conference in Cannes, where the company revealed that 42% of datacentres around the world, last year, had now chosen virtualization as the default build for their production environment. This was up from 27% in 2007, which does indicate the technology is no longer 'new' and instead is fast becoming 'mainstream'.
As this was a reference to purely the VMware installations, the percentage is going to be a good bit higher when all other vendors are included.
At the current rate of growth therefore, the end of this year could see this percentage topping 70% of datacentres, a point at which virtual infrastructures just become infrastructures. But as VMware is now firmly targeting both internal and external infrastructures of businesses, the company is now pitching at the Information Exostructure model, aiming to remove the dividing line between what resources a business uses internally and what will be increasingly supplied from external sources.
According to Maritz in his keynote presentation, VMware will be addressing the need for greater extensibility and federation between internal datacentre resources and other environments. This will be part of the vCenter Suite, in the form a vCloud, which will allow users to federate both their internal infrastructure with external hosted services, so they can be aggregated into what appears to the user as a single underlying resource.
Maritz indicated that the company was already working on a solution to an obvious problem this type of structure introduces—auditing and accounting. It is one thing to have an exostructure, but being able to account for it accurately and effectively is a problem. Businesses will need to know which users have accessed what services, and where those services came from—are they a departmental chargeback within the business or does real money have to go to a third party supplier?
This is one time that the normally pejorative phrase, 'playing both ends against the middle', is both fair and positive. The same tools can be applied for both end users and their internal resource clouds and for hosted service providers out in exostructure cloud, and Maritz made it clear he is keen to see VMware exploit this potential.
He did indirectly acknowledge, however, that there are others vendors in the virtualization space to whom this potential will equally apply by observing that this does bring a need for standards that all user IT departments and service providers can play by. He gave no indication as to what those standards should consist of, but did indicate that work would start on them this year. The objective behind this move is reasonably clear. There is considerable scope of real flexibility and choice for users if there are a large number of different exostructures available, each differentiated in some way, such as offering different services or service levels. What Maritz does want to avoid happening, however, is the growth of what he termed "uber-Clouds that users cannot get out of."
Standardisation is a step that has to be taken—and soon. An exostructure built on common standards could also be seen as an 'uber-cloud' in its own right, and up to a point this would be true. But that would only be in terms of the commonality of the underpinning technologies so that interoperability—and service provider switchability—become the paramount goals. But it would not be an 'uber-cloud' of available services with limited choice and the ever-present risk of user lock-in. If a user does not like the service they are getting they must be able to switch provider—or indeed, just say No!