From VMWorld: Technology for the (IT) People

So, after four days of VMWorld, there were two announcements that really resonated with me as an end user proxy within Intel. For those who don't know me, my team's role is to look at the new technologies that are coming (or might come) from Intel from the eyes of the end user. We try to understand and quantify whether end users really find any value in these technology innovations and, through hands on work in our own labs and directly in end user IT environments, identify any technical and ecosystem barriers to adoption. When we find barriers, we work across the industry to address them. My team is specifically focused on the data center and we have a big focus on data center virtualization. So, yes, the vision that Paul Maritz outlined in his keynote makes absolute sense to me. Plenty has been written about the keynotes (and maybe I'll add my own thoughts in a bit). I wanted to talk about a couple of specific things that Paul mentioned and that, to me, were very encouraging and significant.

Technology innovations that directly and specifically address an expressed customer need don't always come to market quickly, especially if they require coordinated effort across different companies. I also don't believe the new conventional wisdom that, with virtualization, "the hardware doesn't matter". Two announcements at VMWorld demonstrate great examples of the former and give lie to the latter.

The first announcement was Cisco's unveiling of the Nexus 1000v virtual switch. One of the big issues for IT shops deploying virtualization has been that it's next to impossible to easily integrate virtual networking into the existing network management processes and roles and responsibilities. It's been the CCNE's that have enabled physical networks to be managed for reliability, security and compliance and, until now, virtual switches have not allowed that separation of duties and transfer of skills that are embodied in the CCNE's. The Nexus 1000V, a virtual softswitch that will launch next year (according to the demonstrator in their booth), will run side-by-side with the VMWare vSwitch inside ESX server and give CCNEs full Nexus OS access to configuring and monitoring the vSwitch using the same interfaces they're used to on the "hard switches". It also can enforce a separation of duties between the network administrator and the server administrator. This issue has been something that we've heard repeatedly from end users as a barrier to adoption for virtualization 2.0 in the enterprise and Cisco and VMWare have deserve a lot of credit for collaborating closely to make this a reality. (BTW, it also looks to me like the first tangible evidence that higher level networking functionality is beginning to migrate back to where it started: to software on general purpose computers. Perhaps more on that later).

The second was the announcement by VMWare of Enhanced VMotion and by Intel of VT FlexMigration. (Sorry if this part seems a little self serving from an Intel guy). These two capabilities, working together address another key need of end users. Until now, each new generation of CPU needed to maintained in a separate resource pool in the data center. If you didn't and you VMotioned backward from a new generation to an old one, it was possible that the guest application would make use of an instruction that didn't exist in the older generation. So, that kind of migration was not permitted. This restriction means that end users had to either grow resource pools by purchasing older generation hardware (and foregoing the energy efficiency and performance gains of the new hardware) or live with increasing fragmentation into resource "puddles". With EVmotion and FlexMigration, the hypervisor can now assure that the backward migrated VM doesn't use any of those new instructions. Voila, the backward migration can be allowed! Pools can be grown by adding new generation servers to a pool of older servers, a much smoother and more efficient approach to evolution in the data center.

Now, in retrospect, both of these innovations seem "obvious" but actually getting them to market is challenging and significant challenges still remain to implement them in real world environments. Perhaps more significant is that they both required the two companies to recognize the need, align their business interests to address, design a joint solution and coordinate the launch of their respective product offerings. Hard enough to do this across teams in the same company, let alone across two companies.

So, do you see other technology challenges like this with your virtualization projects? Simple problems that seem obvious but no one seems to be addressing?