5 big things to watch for at VMworld

The cloud, virtual networking and storage, OpenStack and mobile computing are all expected to be hot topics at VMworld this year

For about the last decade VMware has been one of the pre-eminent companies ushering in a new era of computing related to server virtualization. Now, the company is hoping to extend the shift beyond just server virtualization to include the cloud, plus network and storage virtualization. The vision is encapsulated in what VMware executives call its Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) strategy, which will be on full display at the company’s annual VMworld conference next week in San Francisco.

But the road to SDDC could be rocky. Enterprises remain skeptical of fully embracing the cloud. Network virtualization is unproven. The benefits of storage virtualization have not been fully articulated. Meanwhile, VMware is facing competitive pressures from Microsoft in the area it has dominated on the hypervisor front. Amazon is, by far, the market-leader in the cloud, and partner Cisco is controls many enterprise networks. Not to mention VMware has a CEO who is just finishing up one year on the job, and its CTO and chief marketing exec have left the company within the last year.

[MORE VWMARE:  VMware CEO talks software-defined data centers, OpenStack and dueling Amazon]

For all these reasons and more, VMware’s annual show in San Francisco will be an important one. Here are five things to watch for:

The cloud

VMware is set to launch its vCloud Hybrid Cloud Service soon – could VMworld be the place? VMware executives have been talking a lot about the offering, but there are questions that still need to be answered, such as where will the offering be hosted – in VMware data centers, or in those from partners?

VMware says the biggest advantage to the offering is that it gives customers a common management platform across their on-premises VMware deployments and this new hybrid cloud. But other cloud providers can make that same argument (for example, Microsoft with the combination of Windows Systems Center and Azure, and Rackspace with OpenStack. Even Amazon has partners like Eucalyptus that customers can build private clouds with).

How will VMware position this new offering in the market and what will it mean for its partner customers?

[MORE ON VWMARE’S CLOUD: Why VMware’s hybrid cloud announcement could be a big deal]

Software-defined networking

One year ago VMware bought Nicira for $1.26 billion, but what’s really happened since then? VMware has integrated some of the Nicira technology into its networking and security product offerings, but adoption is still very early on, and being led by service providers. Is network virtualization for regular enterprises? What advancements will VMware roll out to its virtual networking strategy that will convince enterprises to take a serious look at this technology now, and not in a couple of years?

Can VMware get customers excited about storage virtualization and hypervisors?

Virtual networking is undoubtedly going to get a lot of air time at VMworld, but compute and storage virtualization could be equally important aspects of VMware’s SDDC strategy. On the compute virtualization part, CEO Pat Gelsinger acknowledged in an exclusive interview with Network World that it’s the most mature of the virtualization platforms, but it is also perhaps the area facing the most competition from Microsoft with its Hyper-V hypervisor. How can VMware ensure ESX does not fall into the abyss of commoditization? As for virtualized storage, this is not new technology, but have any vendors really made the case about how important it is for enterprises? Will VMware try to do that at the show?

What’s up with OpenStack?

VMware has been straddling a frenemy line with OpenStack for the better part of the last year – the open source project is both a friend and an enemy to different parts of VMware. On the public cloud front, OpenStack presents an opportunity for VMware to ensure that VMware-virtual machines can operate in OpenStack-powered clouds. On the private cloud side though, OpenStack could be a competitor to VMware’s management platforms like vSphere. How will VMware manage this delicate balance?

[MORE VWMARE-OPENSTACK: VMware CEO says OpenStack is not for the enterprise]

What will we hear about end-user computing?

In that recent interview with Gelsinger, he said VMware’s strategy comes down to three major initiatives: Creating a software-defined data center; delivering it both on customer premises and in the cloud; and end-user computing. The company is one of a handful of virtual desktop infrastructure leaders, but mobile computing is the next frontier that VMware will look to expand its services into. What moves can the company make in end user computing to round out this strategy? VMware just brought on an executive -- former SAP mobile chief Sanjay Poonen -- to handle that division. We’ll see what he’s been up to during his short time on the job.

What are you most looking for from VMware at VMworld? The conference runs from Sunday to Thursday at the Moscone Center. Check back to NetworkWorld.com for updates throughout the week.

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and NetworkWorld.com. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW. Read his Cloud Chronicles here.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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