VMware testing data center OS for managing everything

It outlines a vision for turning x86-based data centers into one big resource pool

VMware believes every business can be like a Google, and have a data center that is highly efficient and automated -- and eventually so completely virtualized it operates not as a collection of networked machines but as a living organism.

The company and its new CEO Paul Maritz hope to wow the 14,000 people expected at its annual conference this week with a vision of a data center anchored to a list of new products, where every resource in it -- storage, networking and servers -- can shift and respond with fluidity to business needs. Since these products aren't due until sometime next year, underscore the word vision in this announcement.

The planned cornerstone product is VMware's Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS) for managing the underlying systems, or "internal cloud." Desktops and laptops are part of this virtualization umbrella, with their operating systems running in a virtual machine on the client computer that is managed back from the data center. VMware also wants to make it possible for IT managers to seamlessly tap into the resources of third-party hosting providers in the same way they can now move server resources inside their data center. It calls this new technology vCloud.

VMworld's vision isn't new and it has limits. The idea of turning data centers into virtual pools of resources that don't hurt application performance or security, avoid vendor lock-in and are automated enough to swiftly adapt to business needs, is the Holy Grail of enterprise IT. And VMware isn't promising it.

VMware's product set, including its VDC-OS, is limited to x86 architectures. That's why Bogomil Balkansky, VMware's senior director of product marketing, in an interview late last week, cited Google as the example of IT's Parthenon, and not the data center of some other Fortune 100 company. Google has standardized on x86. Most other large companies and many mid-sized firms also have environments that include RISC-based servers, Unix operating systems and midrange systems running Cobol-based applications that have been developed over decades -- not on the new systems that Google has bought and built in its 10 short years.

Balkansky believes history is moving to the x86 architecture, and that the hardware, with large amounts of memory -- and processing capability such as the six-core Xeon chip Intel is announcing today -- will only expand its market share at the expense of Unix. Even so, "I'm not saying that Unix is going to go away," he said.

One VMware user testing VDC-OS is Doug Babb, the chief IT systems architect at Hill Air Force Base. Babb has been involved in a multi-year project that has so far trimmed six data centers into two and has relied heavily on virtualization and x86 for its 22,000 users.

The Air Force base began several years ago to move away from Unix-based systems, x86 hardware running VMware's ESX using Red Hat Linux and Oracle. Babb will outline his IT project at one of VMworld's conference sessions.

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