VMware CTO worried about competition? Nah

Hypervisor will become part of the hardware, Stephen Herrod says

VMware CTO Stephen Herrod says he's not worried about the company's competitors. But that doesn’t mean VMware is getting complacent.

Stephen Herrod, the CTO of VMware, is responsible for the company's new technologies and technology collaborations with customers, partners and standards groups. He recently spoke with Network World's Jon Brodkin about VMware's market-leading server virtualization technology and the competitive landscape facing the company. For more information about the seven vendors that pose the biggest threat to VMware's market dominance, check out our feature story.  

How would you rate VMware's competition?

Products from would-be competitors aren't really there yet. It's hard to comment too much on them. The space is so big and growing so rapidly. There will be a lot of offerings in this space. But there's really not a lot of competition today.

Who poses the biggest challenge?

I'm super-confident in where we are. Obviously Microsoft is the giant company that has great reach and I expect they'll be in the market quite a bit when they get their product out.

Hardware upgrades developed by Intel and AMD have embedded support for virtualization at the chip level. This makes it easier to build virtualization software, and some observers think this gives newer software vendors a better chance to compete against VMware. Do you agree?

No. What they've done is make extensions to the CPU that make certain features easier. It makes it easier to build entry-level virtualization to basically get things going. To do industrial-strength virtualization you would run your critical applications on, there's a huge gap. We really like the hardware features. A lot of what it will do [for us] is give higher performance when you're running a lot of virtual machines on the same box.

You can run higher-end workloads.

How will VMware differentiate itself over the next two years?

As you talk to people there seems to be a buzz that the hypervisor is a commodity. I don't like the term commodity at all because it implies that they're all equal. While the price will go down for a single machine that's being virtualized, the differences in approach will be stark. In December we released a new architecture for virtualization that we called ESX 3i. It's a very thin hypervisor that's based on 10 years of work we've done and is embedded with hardware from server vendors [chiefly HP, Dell, IBM, Fujitsu and Siemen]. We've fundamentally believed that virtualization should be part of the hardware. That's a big difference between us and Microsoft, which seems to believe that virtualization is another part of the operating system. I personally fully expect within a few years all servers will come virtualization-enabled, ideally with VMware.

We also have things like VMotion, moving virtual machines from one server to another with zero downtime. Your people will never know the workload has moved from one machine to another. Let's say you have to replace a [storage-area network] or do scheduled maintenance. It used to be you'd go in at 2 a.m. and take down a box. With VMotion you would simply migrate the virtual machines.

VMware's stock recently took a plunge, based on perceptions that it now faces stiffer competition than in the past. Does this affect your approach to building products?

We don't need that to drive us. We've been doing this about 10 years now. And we have a lot of internal motivation. It's not really an event for us.

Can you talk about how you're spreading out to different markets, including desktop and application virtualization?

We're in all those areas. We did an acquisition of a [desktop and application virtualization] company called Thinstall. Our virtual desktop initiative — VDI — is very much about running desktops, both running data center-hosted desktop, but also running them with encryption and other servers. We're certainly not fixed on any type of virtualization.

How does your hypervisor compare with the open source Xen?

Ours has certainly been around a lot longer. We're focused on a thin layer that is not incorporating an operating system. It's a single-purpose hypervisor that's as thin as possible. The versions of Xen all have full operating system as part of their deployment. That's fundamentally a different approach in terms of how much code you rely on in the virtualization layer.

How does Microsoft's Hyper-V stack up next to VMware technology? Have you tested Hyper-V to see how it compares?

No, we don't look at the software itself.

Are there any market segments that you haven't penetrated yet?

It's amazing. We've found this to be an absolutely horizontal technology. We don't do sectors. We've done a lot of high-end security. It's pretty much evenly everywhere out there. We ramp internationally very quickly.

Any final thoughts?

It's pretty early in this and we feel confident about where we're going and where the market is going now.

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