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VMware CTO: Adapt, enable choice, or die

VMware CTO Stephen Herrod talks about the future of networking and the company's transition in the past year to broaden customer choice in the cloud

By , Network World
November 05, 2012 06:09 AM ET
Stephen Herrod

Network World - To some outsiders looking in, VMware has gone through quite a change recently.

A year ago there were criticisms that VMware was the proprietary private-cloud and virtualization leader, with a perception by some that the company was pushing vendor lock-in to ensure customers work within the VMware ecosystem. Perhaps the height of the angst of "VMware vs. the world" came when its VP of Cloud Service Mathew Lodge now almost infamously called open source cloud projects "ugly sisters" in response to reps from open source projects claiming they were more open than VMware.

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Since then, there's been somewhat of a different tune from VMware. At VMworld this spring, the company outlined its software-defined data center concept, an idea that the entirety of data center operations, from compute to storage and networking, can all be virtualized and controlled by overlaying software.

The company went on somewhat of an acquisition spree too, to enhance what some consider a new concept for VMware: enabling multi-cloud management and migration of workloads outside of VMware environments.

Network World recently sat down with one of the men behind VMware's strategy and technology, CTO and Senior Director of R&D for VMware Dr. Stephen Herrod, at MIT's annual Emerging Technologies conference in Boston, where he discussed the future of networking being software-defined.

Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of an interview with Herrod on Oct. 25.

Network World: There's been talk by some that VMware has a new strategy around supporting multi-clouds and opening up to open source projects. Tell us in your own words what VMware's overall strategy is right now?

VMware CTO Stephen Herrod: We have to continuously be reinventing ourselves and continue to push the envelope quite hard. We've been working on this strategy of the software-defined data center for a while now, although we've just coined the phrase earlier this year.

The concept is that we've done a great job in server virtualization but whenever you go out and talk to a CIO or someone who's trying to transform everything in the data center, they'll tell you that virtualization has lowered the cost of creating a new virtual machine and we've made it easy to do this, but what about the rest of my infrastructure?

When you really get into the data center, there's a lot of rigidity. Ground zero of that is the network. It's one of the most constraining aspects of the data center today. The number of network admins that say you can only place this here, there's a firewall there -- it's all very constraining to the ultimate vision of having everything being able to move around.

It's been somewhat of a journey for us, where we've started by focusing successfully on server virtualization. Then, our partners and ourselves have been doing quite a bit around storage virtualization. I'd give ourselves and our industry a "B" at this point for making that better. But for networking, I would give it an optimistic "C." That's why software-defined networking has taken off so quickly -- it's recognizing that the same benefits of virtualization that have showed up in other places can occur in the networking space.

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