Monday, September 7, 2009

VMware's Software Mainframe Analogy: Is it All Good?

VMware's CEO, Paul Maritz, has been touting the vSphere "software mainframe" analogy since his VMworld Europe keynote earlier this year, and undoubtedly, it's been resonating with the 45 and older IT crowd. But is it all good?

Numerous industry analysts have given the mainframe analogy a big thumbs up, and I acknowledge, it's clever marketing. With vSphere 4.0, VMware is taking defining principles of mainframe computing like Reliability, Availability, Serviceability (RAS), performance, and centralized control, and bringing them to commodity x86 hardware with its new application services like VMware Fault Tolerance, Hot Add, Host Profiles, and vShield Zones. With these mainframe-class features, VMware intends to drive deeper and broader adoption of it virtualized infrastruture software into the data center so enterprises will begin to virtualize Tier 1 applications.

Clearly, VMware's platform has grown from a hypervisor into a more comprehensive operating system that can handle much of the virtual resources in a data center. But does the mainframe vision come with a monolithic, expensive development and operating expense curve that lacks flexibility?

As VMware' competitive battle with Microsoft and Xen variants intensify, it will need to be agile and continue to deliver lower operating expense curves while adding more mainframe-like functionality up the software stack. This will be the ultimate challenge -- mixing agility and flexibility with mainframe features and functions at a lower TCO than the competition. My hunch is that time will drive adjustments to the vision and competitive focus. This isn't necessarily bad for VMware, but it's not all good.

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