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VMware's storage strategy: Simplify management

VMware executive Jon Bock discusses VMware's plans for better integrating its server virtualization software with enterprise storage.

Where do server virtualization and storage intersect? What is VMware's strategy for better integrating its virtualization software with enterprise storage? news writer Beth Pariseau recently sat down with VMware senior product manager Jon Bock to discuss VMware, storage management and server virtualization.

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VMware's ESX Xerver 3i embeds the hypervisor in server hardware. Is there any chance we could see that happen in storage hardware as well?

Jon Bock: Generally, storage systems today don't run applications like the hypervisor. We've seen some things starting to get to that level, like some of the things our partners, like LeftHand Networks, are doing with their virtual storage appliance. There's going to be a use case for that -- it makes sense to deploy that way for performance reasons and because an embedded hypervisor creates a smaller attack surface for security purposes.

As storage vendors have begun porting applications to virtual appliances, the storage market has become aware of the performance hit added by the additional hypervisor layer. How is VMware working to address that?

Bock: We've been working to optimize the performance of VMs [virtual machines] as long as we've been shipping them. Now, hardware is moving forward, and we're beginning to leverage on-chip virtualization. Intel and AMD are both working on optimizing on-chip virtualization, Intel with its Paxville Xeon processor that we already support and its upcoming Montecito processors. AMD is working on an offering called Pacifica. These chips will allow us to do things, like extended, nested page tables, that we haven't been able to do in software.

Where will VMware focus next in storage?

Bock: What we're focused on most right now is optimizing and simplifying the management of storage in VMware environments. That means two things: bridging the information gap and offering a broader range of storage management tools. The information gap is between server and storage teams in trying to deploy VMware, and we're developing best practices, as well as working aggressively with our OEM partners to develop more reference information that will make deployment smoother. Storage VMotion is somewhat limited in its first release, but we plan to fill in the gaps with more broad integration with storage systems.

We also want to work with our partners to make their tools easier to use. For example, we're working with partners who provide NPIV to have feature parity between both NPIV attached systems and those that use our file system. We've come out with software development kits, like ones used by EMC Control Center, to map storage allocations to virtual machines. We're trying to give storage vendors better visibility into the VMware environment.

How does VMware make build vs. partner decisions?

Bock: Where we can provide differentiation that adds significant value to the storage layer, we will develop the capability. That was the case with Storage VMotion where we took on migration, because it was easier to do across heterogeneous arrays at the VM level because of where we sit in the stack. When it comes to things, like replication, that sit on the other side of the storage layer, there are already many vendors out there able to do very advanced things with the technology, and we're not going to reinvent the wheel.

What should storage users know about VMware that they don't know today?

Bock: I think a lot of people overestimate the complexity of doing a VMware deployment, because they hear about more complex cases and forget that the vast majority of installations are very simple. The storage industry has decided that iSCSI storage is best for VMware in smaller environments, and VMware agrees. There are a broad range of options out there.

Some analysts predict that the hypervisor will become the data center operating system. Does VMware envision itself at the heart of data center grids in the future?

Bock: I agree that the idea of a common infrastructure layer is where the industry is headed. As it becomes a ubiquitous layer, we will start to provide services on top of that [rather than providing that layer itself]. Object-oriented computing and services-oriented architectures, which is what you're really talking about with this layer, has multiple components and won't necessarily be one pool. Right now, from a general perspective, we're already getting away from the 'do everything' operating system with what some of our partners are doing with virtual appliances, using the OS as part of specific application management. That makes it possible to scale out more.

How has the IPO changed VMware?

Bock: I think it's raised the awareness about virtualization in general, and especially raised consciousness of it in the SMB market. It's raised the number of angles people look at virtualization from. It used to be a smaller technical niche, but the barriers to deployment are falling away.

How does VMware feel about having more competition in the market these days -- Microsoft's Hyper-V, Oracle VM and Xen, to name a few?

Bock: It means there are more companies out there talking about the benefits of virtualization, which frees VMware up to do more about secondary features, especially for business continuity and disaster recovery. It's still early in this market, and having new competition will also probably help innovation, somewhat.

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