VMware has stuck around long enough to move from being an underdog into a major established player in the data center world. When companies grow, the added complexity can lead to a form of “corporate sclerosis”, where agility and the ability to always remain on the competitive edge start to progressively deteriorate until a form of paralysis is reached. Is it a fate that awaits every major IT player, including VMware?
The NSX Case
One of the most pivotal (no pun intended) decisions in VMware history was the Nicira acquisition, which turned into the product we know as NSX. During the VMworld Europe 2018 Keynote, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger claimed that “NSX has become the industry standard for Storage-Defined Networking”. While I’m not a networking guy and do not have sufficient background to determine what is an SDN solution, I would tend to agree that to this statement.
VMware has gone to great lengths to improve NSX capabilities, moving from NSX-V (the micro-segmentation product we initially knew as NSX) into NSX-T which is a true vendor neutral product able to work beyond VM virtualization. Those capabilities have been expanded by the recent acquisition (earlier this year) of Velocloud Networks, whose product is now marketed as NSX SD-WAN.
As incredulous as it may seem to us older VMware community members (those who grew professionally alongside with x86 virtualization), VMware is a networking company.
Embracing The Cloud
The other case is the cloud story at VMware. We know that VMware was quite reticent at the cloud, before launching their ill-fated vCloud Air solution, a desperately late attempt at catching up with the cloud giants and especially with Amazon Web Services.
2016 was another pivotal moment for VMware. They decided to build a partnership with AWS instead of fighting them. I was a bit skeptical first, although after a more thorough review I slightly changed my mind. I did have some objections regarding the impact on the VMware partner ecosystem, but the cloud is now mainstream: it forces a change in mindset not only for those who consume it, but also for traditional partners – especially those who were focused on hardware sales. Partners now need to elevate themselves as trusted advisors to the business, helping their customers build an optimal hybrid cloud or cloud-only architecture design.
Since then, VMware partnered with more cloud providers and managed to flawlessly execute on the vision which was laid back in 2016. VMware is no longer the wounded cloud company it was in 2015-2016; it has proven consistently that it is a cloud company. VMware Cloud Foundation is the cornerstone and state-of-the-art product for hybrid cloud implementations. It also allows customers to truly achieve a full on-premises private cloud implementation – one where “private cloud” truly means delivering cloud-like capabilities in terms of self-service capabilities, provisioning speeds and automation.
From VMs to Containers
Here again, once VMware understood the paradigm shift between virtualizing monolithic, legacy applications and the lean deployment, provisioning and portability capabilities offered by containers, VMware took some steps to embrace this new technological approach to building applications. It took a while and this can’t be really blamed on VMware: the container software landscape was still in the process of shaping itself and various orchestration products were still competing against each other, with no standards defined.
It took perhaps a couple years, but here we are almost at the doors of 2019 and Kubernetes has become the de-facto standard in container orchestration. Docker is long forgotten (who would have believed this in 2016!). With a standard, vendor neutral orchestration platform, it is way easier to propose an enterprise-class offering and this isn’t just the case of VMware: nearly every vendor event will talk about their Kubernetes implementation. NetApp was for example spending quite a lot of time covering NKS (NetApp Kubernetes Service) at NetApp Insight 2018 (an event I attended just before VMworld Europe 2018).
It’s therefore no surprise that VMware has a Kubernetes offering. The capabilities offered by container technologies are staggering compared to what we’re stuck with in legacy x86 virtualization. Yes, x86 thick applications have become legacy apps, no matter what one may think. That would be however a topic on its own. Perhaps the “mic drop” moment of VMworld Europe 2018 Keynote was Pat Gelsinger’s announcement of the Heptio acquisition. It’s safe to say that the entire audience was astonished. Heptio are well-known in the container industry and did build a comprehensive range of solutions to support containerized deployments. With this bold strategic move, VMware are putting themselves ahead on the container race.
Talking of containers, we may see in the future more and more integration of container technologies in VMware products. It is possible that in future releases of ESXi, the Kubernetes modules may run natively on the hypervisor code as services / daemons. This would allow for ESXi to natively support containers as well as Kubernetes clusters. Most importantly, there would be a 1:1 parity between a Kubernetes cluster and a regular VMware cluster. The hypervisor would understand the specifics of both and address underlying requirements accordingly, yet they would be seamlessly integrated in the usual VMware management tools.
It’s great to see that VMware is at the top of their game because frankly, most of us in the community love VMware. We love VMware because some of us grew as professionals and individuals alongside with VMware technologies. We love VMware because of the unique community that has built itself around it, and which I dare to say is quite unique. We love VMware like a family member though, which means that it’s not always all roses. In families, people are usually vocal and quite able to complain or just be pissed off at one other. And because we love VMware like a family member, it is a company close to us that we wish to see succeed.
Nevertheless, if I have to take a step back & sound unbiased it’s fair to say that VMware is a hell of an incredible company. Seriously, look at it. VMware had no networking product at all. OK, they did have virtual switches and virtual distributed switches. They bet on Nicira and are now the leading network virtualization (or software-defined networking) company. If you’re a network admin in 2018, do you really want to do networking the old way?
Looking at cloud and containers, the transformation / pivot is absolutely staggering. VMware has come a real long way from x86 virtualization into the bleeding edge things they’re doing now. Not only they do it well, but they put the enterprise perspective and management capabilities into it.
It’s fair to say that VMware is a great example of a successful “transform or be disrupted” company. VMware are adaptively transforming: they are at the forefront of innovation, while still staying true to their customers and accompanying them on their transformational journey. If you aren’t convinced of this, you should come to a VMUG and see for yourself. Most of my industry friends are now into containers, cloud and network virtualization. x86 virtualization is not dead, but I dare to say it is now legacy business. It’s legacy business for enterprises, as well as for VMware.
One last note to say that many brilliant industry friends recently joined VMware. I don’t know why VMware is on such a hiring spree (I hope that they will not spin down as fast as they are currently spinning up!), but the fact that these esteemed peers are joining VMware is an eye opener. We’re not talking about your average IT Joe joining, but about people with an acute perception of the industry; people who certainly wouldn’t want to work for an average company, selling average products.
So there you are. It’s almost 2019. VMware is cool again. Or it didn’t really cease to be, we just needed to give it time.