LAS VEGAS — There have been some years at VMware’s annual VMworld conference where the company sold more sizzle than steak when introducing new technologies and their associated roadmaps. At this year’s show here this week, the company had some steak to work with — but forgot the sizzle.
After a few dismal attempts to break into the hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) market with lackluster offerings including EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK, VMware delivered a better idea with VMware Cloud Foundation.
In a nutshell, VMware Cloud Foundations combines the company’s HCI software, vSphere and VSAN, with its increasingly popular NSX networking software. The company also will offer the bundled technology as a new as-a-service offering — finally — and users can download the software to any hardware platform of their choosing.
While users can still get the VMware Cloud Foundation bundled with the hardware of qualified hardware manufacturers, some conference attendees liked the option of purchasing just the software from VMware and installing it themselves.
“It’s a smarter move for a couple of reasons,” said Bill Hewitt, a systems administrator with a Phoenix-based financial investment company. First, it could keep costs down “by keeping it out of the hands of server companies who tend to tack on added costs,” he said. Additionally, “it also allows us to tune it to the platform of our choice.”
Cloud Foundation also includes VMware SDDC Manager, which helps both users and service providers automate the deployment and management of VMware’s entire cloud stack.
The primary functions of the offering are to give cloud operators a tool to deploy, configure, patch and upgrade the entire system including NSX, VSAN and vCenter ESX. It can also automate the deployment of products such as Horizon and vRealize, according to Ajay Patel, senior vice president and general manager of VMware’s cloud provider software business unit.
“We see this [VMware Cloud Foundation] as the next-generation hyper-converged infrastructure for building private and hybrid clouds,” Patel said. “And by adding NSX [with VMware Cloud Foundation], we not only deliver a hyper-converged architecture but a lot of agile network management and micro-segmentation.”
While some attendees liked the story they heard, they were left wanting for more details on how some of the technology worked that would result in complete hyper-converged package to make it easier to launch private and hybrid clouds.
“It’s a better story I heard from them this year about how hyper-converged could help me launch and manage a cloud environments,” said one CTO with a mid-size Los Angeles-based credit union. However, “I need them to better explain the aspects of micro-segmentation [in NSX] and how that helps me stand up [a cloud environment] that gives me the agility they are talking about.”
“They did a good job with the soup-to-nuts thing of explaining how [VMware Cloud Foundation] plays into the HCI systems, but they needed to spend more time on the newer automation software under the covers,” said an IT manager with a Phoenix-based transportation company. “They could have had more clarity and energy to the presentation, which was a little too slick.”
Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor with TechTarget. Contact him at email@example.com
If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to first-time VMworld attendees, it’d be to sign up early for breakout sessions. VMworld’s 2016 Schedule Builder goes live July 19, and you can expect the most popular sessions to reach capacity soon after. If you don’t want to be waiting in the overflow line outside a packed room, it pays to review the session library, have a few options in mind and sign up early.
With that in mind, we’ve picked through this year’s catalog to help you get a jump start on the crowds when the sign up window opens next week. Of course, these are just suggestions and are geared toward IT professionals using VMware’s server virtualization products, but there’s something here for everyone. Be sure to let us know in the comments below which sessions you’re looking forward to, or if we missed some of your favorites.
- INF8375: What’s New in vSphere
What would VMworld be without this perennial favorite? If you’re curious where vSphere is headed, what’s up with the new HTML5 client or want to learn about upcoming features, be sure to check out this session. And of course, if you have any lingering complaints about VMware’s flagship product, this is your chance to be heard.
Speaker: Michael Adams, senior director of product marketing, VMware
- INF8644: Getting the Most out of vMotion: Architecture, Features, Performance and Debugging
One of the most commonly-used vSphere features, vMotion is loved by many and fully understood by few. As its title suggests, this technical session will cover new capabilities and tools for performance troubleshooting. The session description also teases a sneak peek at future directions for the live migration technology, including encrypted vMotion and vMotion to public clouds.
Speakers: Arunachalam Ramanathan, staff engineer, VMware
Sreekanth Setty, staff engineer 2, VMware
- DEVOP9093: Unpanel: How I Survived the DevOps Transition
Will you survive? Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but more companies are beginning to consider a DevOps approach, which often presents unfamiliar challenges. This interactive session between IT operations professionals and developers should make for an interesting discussion — one in which the audience is invited to participate.
Speakers: Suzanne Ambiel, portfolio marketing Cloud Native, OpenStack, VMware
Tom Hite, director, DevOps and Cloud Native Applications, VMware
Reginald Lo, senior director, Advisory Services, VMware
- NET8193R: The Architectural Future of Network Virtualization
What’s next for network virtualization? This session will offer a technical deep dive into the future of network virtualization. It’s also possible attendees may hear about technical previews for future NSX features.
Speaker: Bruce Davie, CTO Networking, VMware
- STO8256: Introducing Virtual SAN for VMware Photon: The Best HCI Platform for Containers and Cloud-Native Applications
VMware’s Photon Platform, unveiled at VMworld 2015, offers a streamlined deployment option for containers. One of the most prominent challenges with managing containers is the storage layer, which this session promises to address. This session’s description also hints at upcoming Virtual SAN updates: “This new implementation of VMware Virtual SAN is designed to deliver the very best hyper-converged infrastructure architecture and experience to satisfy the management and storage needs and requirements of the Photon Platform, containers, and cloud-native applications.”
Speakers: Christian Dickmann, senior staff engineer, VMware
Rawlinson Rivera, principal architect, Office of CTO – SABU, VMware
- STO8159: Snapshots Suck: How VSAN and VVols fix all your operational nightmares
Snapshots are meant to provide quick roll-back points and have important use cases, but they can quickly grow out of control and present performance problems. While fixing all of your operational nightmares might be a bit optimistic, this session is sure to be popular for administrators wanting to learn how newer VMware technologies can help better manage snapshots.
Speakers: Pete Flecha, senior technical marketing architect, VMware
John Nicholson, senior technical marketing manager, VMware
- INF8255: vSphere API 101: Harnessing the Power for the Everyday Admin
This session’s speakers, William Lam and Alan Renouf, are among the best-known VMware bloggers for their insightful technical posts. Their session will serve as an introduction the vSphere API, including practical examples for both vSphere administrators and developers. It will also include a technical preview for future capabilities.
Speakers: William Lam, senior SDDC integration architect, VMware
Alan Renouf, product line manager, VMware
- INF8045: vSphere High Availability Best Practices and Tech Preview
Another bread-and-butter session that’s always popular, this session typically covers best practices and technical explanations. This year’s itinerary also says the session, “will spend a great deal of time on tech preview features.”
Speakers: Manoj Krishnan, vSphere HA tech lead, VMware
Matthew Meyer, technical marketing, VMware
- HBC9401: What’s new with vCloud Air
What is new? Over the last year, all we’ve heard about vCloud Air has been rumors that the company had cut development as a possible Virtustream joint venture was explored. That initiative fell apart, but where does that leave the company’s public cloud now? It’s also worth mentioning that the two co-general managers presenting this session were recently tapped to replace Bill Fathers, when he added his name to the list of former vCloud executives who’ve recently departed.
Speakers: Laura Ortman, VP & co-GM, vCloud Air, VMware
Allwyn Sequeira, senior VP & co-GM, vCloud Air, VMware
- NET8241: Monitoring and Troubleshooting NSX with vRealize Network Insight (Arkin)
Customers interested in learning how VMware would integrate its latest acquisition should attend this session, which features the new VMware brand name for Arkin’s product. Visibility and simplified management of VMware’s NSX will be key to the product’s long-term success. The session’s description also hints at integration with VMware’s Log Insight tool.
Speakers: Vyenkatesh Deshpande, senior product line manager, VMware
Sean O’Dell, senior systems engineer, Arkin
In an attempt to close the gap in the race for hypervisor supremacy, Citrix rolled out XenServer 7 in May 2016. The company’s latest hypervisor offering boasts new features and a unique security capability that makes it more comparable to VMware and Microsoft.
The real question is, does it matter?
VMware had a large lead with ESXi but Microsoft’s Hyper-V has closed the gap over time and now Citrix has caught up—at least from a technical perspective.
Even as Citrix inches closer to the competition in terms of features, the sheer volume of VMware’s existing customer base and the lack of an ecosystem and products tied to XenServer 7 will keep it in the back seat for now.
“The base product itself is now on par with the offerings from VMware and Microsoft, however what is missing is the ecosystem around them,” said Brian Kirsch, an IT architect and instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College. “A stand-alone hypervisor is just that, stand-alone. The real feature of a hypervisor is what else you can do with it. Citrix has taken a first step with the addition of the higher-end graphics ability but that also makes sense given Citrix’s application focus. XenServer doesn’t have an ecosystem built around it like XenApp and XenDesktop do, and the [new] XenServer offering shows nice stand-alone improvements but lacks in the features to make it a central point in a data center.”
Citrix made a big leap back in 2009 when they integrated Active Directory with the release of XenServer 5.5. The company is hoping to make another push with the new features in XenServer 7. Citrix has added support for the Server Message Block (SMB) storage protocol in XenServer 7. For those using a Microsoft Windows environment, the new support for SMBs will help utilize existing file shares.
Citrix didn’t stop there with new Microsoft capabilities in XenServer 7. Now, users can update the XenServer tools through a Windows update.
“Certainly from a feature perspective, a technical perspective, all of the hypervisor vendors have been improving a lot to compete with VMware, who is the market leader,” said Gary Chen, a research manager for IDC’s Cloud and Virtualization System Software. “There is a gap there but it’s much closer than it’s ever been. I think at this point, even if someone came out with a product that was feature-for-feature equivalent to VMware, it would be difficult to gain traction in the market primarily because there is an installed base of VMware so you’d be looking at a migration scenario, which is never pretty.”
Chen added that the ecosystem is very important for hypervisors, noting that a company could roll out the greatest hypervisor in the world but if there isn’t enough integration or certifications, it might not matter.
Another reason that Citrix is inching closer to ESXi and Hyper-V in the feature department is its new security capability. XenServer 7 now has Direct Inspect APIs, which allows third-party vendors to help secure the operating system. Direct Inspect APIs allows the admin to look into the VM to see what it’s doing for security reasons.
“VMware has something similar with vShield and they’ve basically been the only ones who had something like that,” Chen said. “So XenServer coming out with their security feature kind of surprised me. I didn’t think other hypervisor vendors were working on that technology. But it makes sense because I think it’s something they felt they needed on the competitive side for desktops.”
The latest version of XenServer also has increased the amount of NVIDIA vGPU-enabled virtual machines it can support. Citrix’s hypervisor was the first to support NVIDIA vGPU technology and has continued to grow its support levels. XenServer 7 also has increased scalability support for host RAM, CPU cores and VM RAM.
While XenServer 7’s features are bringing it on par with ESXi and Hyper-V, it still lags behind because of its lack of a surrounding ecosystem. Microsoft still has the best shot at catching VMware because so many users already have existing Windows environments. For Citrix to compete, they will need to narrow their focus.
“I think Citrix is kind of picking and choose its battles,” Chen said. “They’re saying, ‘Let’s not go after general purpose virtualization, let’s go after specific use cases where we think we can win, particular geography areas.’ I think they’re becoming more focused and will find a spot where they can have an advantage or a chance to compete.”
XenServer 7 was made general available at the end of May 2016.
The shakeup at VMware continues.
The company confirmed this week that COO Carl Eschenbach is leaving for venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. Eschenbach was VMware COO since April 2012 and a 14-year VMware veteran.
While the departure of a COO would be a significant move for any company, it wouldn’t necessarily catch our eye – except that it’s just the latest entry on a growing list of executive changes for VMware.
In January, CFO Jonathan Chadwick left VMware and the firm also cut 800 jobs – many from its vCloud Air and Fusion business groups. Then, just last week senior vice president (and former Nicira CTO) Martin Casado left VMware for another venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz.
In August 2015 CTO Ben Fathi left the company. Matthew Lodge, VP of cloud services left in October, and then earlier this year, VMware lost VP and chief technologist Simone Brunozzi.
As the list of departed executives grows longer – and especially given their timing — it becomes harder to believe that this is simply a confluence of unrelated career moves, and not somehow related to the unfolding Dell-EMC acquisition. One analyst suggests the recent technology changes VMware has made alone demands a change in personnel.
“Just two weeks ago [VMware CEO Pat] Gelsinger was getting everyone onboard with the portfolio changes, like how NSX was going to be the next big revenue driver,” said Andrew Smith, software analyst at Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR) in Hampton, NH. “They are in the midst of a pretty big shift that I think warrants some executive changes.”
Gelsinger is certainly trying to paint the changes in a positive light, saying this week that the company is “well positioned to continue helping our customers transition to the mobile-cloud era.” His choice of words, though — specifically the ‘mobile-cloud era’ — also highlights the company’s focus moving forward. VMware has been a company in transition for the last several years as it has created new business units to expand beyond server virtualization.
“VMware is at a very precarious point in its history as the first [wave of] server virtualization is largely taped out and it looks like the pendulum is going to swing back with the rise of bare metal in the cloud,” said Geoffrey Woollacott, principal analyst/practice manager, Software and BI at TBR. “They know they need to diversify their revenue streams away from their cash cow.”
VMware’s value proposition in the market has endured for many years but the industry cycles are now churning ever faster, and they need to quickly move to more fertile ground, Woollacott said.
That fertile ground has been a bit hard to find as of late. The company’s vCloud Air business has floundered, and the company acknowledges its first step into hyper-converged infrastructure with EVO:RAIL wasn’t the success it hoped.
Some of these initiatives, such as its end-user computing (EUC) platform, have been very successful. It’s telling that Sanjay Poonen, executive VP and GM for its EUC division, will expand his role to lead the company’s worldwide marketing and communications.
However, the recent exodus of executive talent could undermine the confidence of users just beginning to seriously evaluate Dell, EMC and VMware’s more traditional data center-class products. For IT shops that have already completed a revamp of their data centers with products from each company, the recent brain drain shouldn’t have much impact on future buying decisions.
“It depends on where you are in your technology cycle,” Woollacott said. “If you made a major transformation bet three years ago to consolidate the data center around Dell and EMC products, you would be OK with buying a few more. But if you are at the beginning of rebuilding your architecture, you are taking a harder look at alternatives.”
Ed Scannell, senior executive editor, also contributed to this post.
VMware unveiled the latest version of its Virtual SAN software this week, and while the release includes welcome improvements, VMware’s marketing message is missing the mark.
Virtual SAN 6.2 adds several upgrades that customers will appreciate, though the addition of in-line deduplication and compression will only be for all-flash arrays.
The software also comes with a renewed marketing push to label VSAN as the key component of what VMware is now calling its “Hyper-Converged Software (VMware HCS) stack.” That stack also apparently includes vSphere and vCenter Server.
VMware has been pushing the converged angle of its VSAN software for some time, but with this latest push, I think it’s time to cut through some of the hype to reflect on what hyper-convergence actually means.
Even the most basic definition of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) describes a system which integrates (or converges) both software and hardware components. Today, that’s come to mean appliances from vendors, such as Nutanix and SimpliVity, that combine compute, storage, networking as well as software that may include a hypervisor (which effectively abstracts compute), and a software-defined storage layer that abstracts the local storage on each node. Many appliances also include backup or resiliency features, performance management tools as well as deduplication and compression.
One of the main draws to this hyper-converged approach is that customers love the simplicity of plugging in an integrated appliance and the ability to simply plug in more to scale. But that’s not VSAN or VMware’s HCS stack. Software bundling is not analogous to hyperconvergence. Yet, VMware still claims to be number one in the hyper-converged market. I don’t have access to any firm numbers, but I’d go so far as to speculate that the vast majority of VSAN installs aren’t delivering HCI as we understand it today.
It’s easy to forget with all this hype about VSAN that VMware actually has a hyper-converged infrastructure offering—or at least I think they do. And they’re certainly not number one.
VMware released EVO:RAIL to much fanfare at VMworld 2014. It was later met with customer complaints about licensing and adoption lagged. Now, it seems VMware is unwilling to admit defeat in the hyper-converged space and is instead turning its attention to pumping up the converged angle of VSAN, even as rumors swirl that the company plans to phase out or even terminate EVO:RAIL. You may remember that VMware also promised a larger-scale converged offering first called EVO:RACK and then rebranded as EVO:SDDC. Still no word on if that product will see the light of day or whether VMware will leave non-Federation hardware partners out in the cold.
In fact, early next week we’re expecting VCE to introduce VxRail—a hyperconverged appliance that sounds remarkably similar to everything the EMC Federation hoped EVO:RAIL would be.
Details of VxRail have yet to be publicly released, but expect to hear that VCE will take on the role of integrator for the Federation, effectively repackaging VMware’s software stack into easily digestible appliances based on EMC (and who knows, maybe Dell) hardware.
However, unlike the much-hyped introduction of EVO:RAIL, don’t expect to hear much talk from VMware executives about the company’s independence and its ability to offer customers a choice when it comes to hardware platforms. Instead, you’ll hear how preferred hardware integrations will save customers money and offer better performance—and all of this at a time when VMware should be recognizing that its ability to lock customers in to its hypervisor is beginning to wane.
If VMware is serious about its software-defined data center vision, then it should keep its focus on providing products that help deemphasize hardware rather than giving preferential treatment to some. On the other hand, if your goal is to generate short-term profit for EMC—which is currently slogging through an acquisition fraught with financial complexities—then VxRail makes perfect sense.
By Ed Scannell and Nick Martin
The bloodletting at VMware has begun.
Reports published over the past several days about the company laying off as many as 900 of its 18,000 or so employees are proving correct, as dozens of affected workers are posting about their experiences on a message board.
The groups taking the biggest hit appear to be the vCloud Air, Fusion and Workstation groups, the latter focusing on end-user virtualization. The entire Fusion and Workstation groups are “gone” as of yesterday (Monday), according to one anonymous VMware employee. Reportedly, VMware is moving all Fusion and Workstation development to China.
Already confirmed today is the company will close its Burlington, Canada technical support center where 100 employees will lose their jobs.
The cuts made to vCloud Air may reflect the company’s decision in late November to scrap the 50-50 joint venture with EMC to pull together a more cohesive hybrid cloud strategy. Besides vCloud Air, the joint venture was to be made up of Virtustream, which EMC acquired for $1.2 billion last May, plus VCE’s Cloud Managed Services and EMC’s Storage Managed and Object Storage services.
EMC, which owns about 80% of VMware, announced in a SEC filing late last month its intention to lay off an unspecified number of employees over the course of 2016. According to sources familiar with EMC’s plans, the company could let go as many as 20,000 of its 100,000 or so employees by the end of this year.
Analysts and other industry observers have speculated since late last year that Dell, EMC and VMware — particularly the first two — would have to sell off parts of their respective businesses or consolidate groups across the companies, including through layoffs, to raise enough cash to finance the $67 billion deal. In November, the company was reported to be facing a whopping $9 billion tax bill, which further cast doubt on the deal being approved by shareholders and the companies’ respective boards of directors.
VMware has issued a patch to fix a problem where ESXi 5.5 Update 1 randomly disconnects from NFS storage.
The VMware NFS bug popped up in April, causing VMs to appear frozen and affecting connections to datastores from multiple storage vendors. With no official fix available, VMware pros warned each other against upgrading to ESXi 5.5 Update 1 — or to roll back to the previous version if they’d already migrated.
Security updates are now available for VMware products affected by the Heartbleed flaw.
The OpenSSL security vulnerability, which could allow someone to access the memory of systems secured with the susceptible version of the OpenSSL software, affected 27 VMware products. VMware made patches for all 27 products available yesterday, 12 days after the OpenSSL vulnerability came to light.
Among the list of affected products are the latest versions of VMware’s most popular, including vCenter Server 5.5, ESXi 5.5 and vCloud Automation Center 6. Earlier versions that didn’t rely on OpenSSL 1.0.1 were not affected.
VMware recommends customers patch affected products, then replace security certificates and reset passwords. More information and links to patch downloads can be found in this VMware Security Advisory.
VMware vSphere 5.5 Update 1 users are having problems connecting to NFS storage.
The new VMware NFS bug causes random disconnects to storage, and it affects products from multiple vendors. The main symptoms of the problem are VMs that appear frozen and NFS datastores that are grayed out, according to blogger Michael Webster, an engineer at Nutanix.
The prevailing advice is to avoid migrating to vSphere 5.5 Update 1 — or roll back to the original vSphere 5.5 — until VMware issues a fix, which it has yet to do. The company has not yet warned customers about the problem, either.
“It is remarkable VMware customers have until now not been publicly informed by VMware about this issue,” wrote Marcel van den Berg, a virtualization consultant in the Netherlands. “Even though there is not a fix available yet, the issue seems bad enough to warn customers intending to upgrade.”
Nick Howell, an architect at NetApp (one of the affected storage vendors), first reported the VMware NFS bug yesterday.
“VMware has confirmed the issue in vSphere and is working closely with NetApp to determine [the] root cause,” he wrote.
The troubling Heartbleed SSL vulnerability that’s causing a stir this week also affects many VMware products.
The weakness in the OpenSSL protocol revealed this week affects 66% of Web servers and allows anyone to read the memory of systems secured with the problematic OpenSSL software. The problem had gone undetected for two years and analysts are confirming it’s as bad as advertised, potentially putting millions of passwords and other secure information at risk.
In a KnowledgeBase article, VMware listed its products that have shipped with the vulnerable OpenSSL 1.0.1. They include ESXi 5.5, vCenter Server 5.5 and vCloud Automation Center 5.1.x and 5.2.x. Earlier versions of ESXi and vCenter Server are not affected.
Microsoft supporters are having a field day with the news, quick to point out that Hyper-V and Azure aren’t affected and poking fun at VMware’s prior claims of being more secure. So just how big of a deal is this for shops running VMware?
“It’s both a fantastically world-ending, huge deal that we should consider turning the Internet off for — and not a big deal at all,” said Trevor Pott, IT consultant for eGeek Consulting.
The potential vulnerability is scary, but not necessarily because VMware’s products are affected.
“The thing is, vSphere is rarely open to the outside world,” Pott said. “So, theoretically I could crack your SSL if I was sitting on your network sniffing your traffic. But if I’m behind your firewall sniffing your network traffic, you’ve got bigger problems than this.
“VMware and everybody who was vulnerable to this had the code to fix it in hours. So that means, if there isn’t a patch out for VMware’s products yet, there will be in a matter of days.”
Any Internet-facing device, including the dozens or hundreds found on a corporate network, are potentially at risk, but virtualized workloads may actually be easier to protect, Pott added.
“In a virtual environment, I can easily stand up a firewall in front of systems that I can’t patch, and I can essentially create an SSL proxy where the proxy facing the Internet is, in fact, patched,” he said. “The fact that I’m in a virtual environment means I could stand up a solution to this in minutes.”