In VMworld keynote, Maritz describes a VMware driving full speed in every direction

Trying to rebuild all the IT infrastructure in the world is a big job; don't do it all yourself

VMware appears to be using its VMworld conference this week to launch new attacks on the sky above and the ground below while adding a whole new type of target to attack and at least one new type of weapon with which to do it.

All the time its CEO insists, the company will remain laser-focused on changing the perception of end users so that when they hear "computer" they envision a metaphorical construct of conglomerated services based on public and private networks rather than the device they type on every day.

Users are already expanding the number of devices they use to access or manipulate data so quickly that only 20 percent of all the hardware sold in five years will be running Windows, VMware CEO Paul Maritz predicted.

PCs are a dying metaphor

PCs are metaphors themselves, Maritz said. The hardware, the operating system, the applications, the focus on files and documents – are all based on assumptions made by researchers at Xerox PARC about how best to "automate the life of the white-collar worker circa 1975," Maritz told a crowd of 19,000 the conference yesterday in Las Vegas.

In 1975 white collar workers weren't connected to the Internet, didn't do email, didn't communicate, share files or exchange much information when they were outside one another's physical presence; now, through email, text and instant messaging, file sharing, app sharing, data exchange, real-time performance and data reporting, full-time data access and sharing is more the rule than the exception.

Within a few years the workflow of a typical white collar worker will be focused on "streams of information that will be coming at them in much smaller chunks and much larger numbers. We're moving into a new post-document era, and we will need different solutions," Maritz said.

There is a lot of good evidence behind what he says. Trends toward non-Windows mobile devices, resurgence of Apple on the back of the iPhone and iPad, almost universal availability of mobile data networks and increasing reliance on them by even non-power-users for both work and personal tasks.

Add to that the tendency of users of all ages to prefer narrow-function applications for specific tasks on smartphones because they do 80 percent of the work rather than making you type in queries yourself, and you have a new model of "user" who doesn't rely on either Microsoft or a traditional PC for much beyond the convenience of big screens, big keyboards and someplace comfortable to sit.

Cloud right now is more real than hype

Half the time, judging from both work and personal acquaintances, they don't differentiate between apps or data in "the cloud" versus on the desktop any more than business users 10 years ago could consistently identify which documents were stored on a server rather than a client.

VMware continues to dominate server virtualization brilliantly. Despite constantly increasing competition it still holds market share north of 75 percent.

It's all the other areas that are a problem, at least if you assume the whole cloud vision Maritz describes will come about because VMware is in the middle holding all the pieces together.

The more comfortable IT and business users get with clouds, the more they mix their sources – SAAS, PAAS, IAAS, internal, external, data, storage, capacity.

VMware adds pieces to make itself one-stop cloud shop

The cloud is not four-star prix fixe, it's an a la carte menu that lets you order from the kitchen and get pizza delivered for the finicky eater at your table without a penalty.

Maritz describes a very similar picture, in which apps and data move from cloud to cloud to internal network using a variety of new and advancing VMware products.

  • The vSphere virtualization/cloud management software becomes the center of a mesh of varied connections that allow apps and data to interact without regard to hardware, software or network limitations.
  • vFabric, the newly announced cloud-based version of PostGres provides the consistent database-services function to give apps on any cloud access to the data they need;
  • Cloud Foundry, the open-source Platform-as-a-Service stations is available where the users are to let them run the apps they want within the cloud easily;
  • Desktop/mobile virtualization software VMware View VDI virtualizes and connects any computing device to secure them and their data, and give them access to all the cloud goodness through a VMware Horizon apps and services portal.

Take away the product names and that's pretty much how every cloud analyst predicts the future.

Except, a lot of the changes are coming about for reasons that have little or nothing to do with VMware.

Apple drove the smartphone thing and most of the tablets and the bring-your-own-technology trend that followed.

VMware didn't drive all the trends it's riding

Citrix did a lot more to connect those devices and a million others to corporate apps than VMware did.

Amazon EC2 and Microsoft Azure did more to make public cloud a credible function than VMware; Salesforce made SaaS more than just Gmail. Oracle and a dozen open-source database providers or flavors filled in the data layer much more effectively than VMware.

VMware has a good cloud management/integration story with vSphere, but it has a long way to go in many other areas and, more discouragingly for it, some very qualified competition with which it must catch up.

Most obviously, Citrix isn't slowing down its efforts to retain its dominance in desktop/mobile/handheld virtualization in the least, but it just bought and turned it open-source to create more of an open source virtualization server/cloud platform alternative to VMware using OpenStack and XenServer.

VMware has a good chance with its plan to use its vCloud Director cloud controller/managment/integration platform to tie together many individual cloud networks, but it depends heavily on getting cloud provider partners certified to the higher of two levels. The lower one, vCloud Powered ensures a service provider can use the vCloud Connector to move a workload from one cloud to another, after taking it offline and modifying it if necessary.

Steep learning curve for critical partners

The higher certification – vCloud Datacenter – guarantees two clouds would be compatible enough to easily move a workload.

Both certifications were introduced last year, along with vCloud Director. Of 5,600 cloud provider partners, 41 have certified at the lower level, none have at the higher.

Matthew Lodge, senior director of cloud services told TheRegister he hopes to have 25 data centers (not individual companies) certified in 13 countries by the end of this year.

But it's a tall technical order and a threat to service provider's business plan.

In a pure cloud-oriented world a top-quality service provider with a platform that is cheap and easy for customers to move workloads into and out of is not in the business of leasing really expensive real estate with high-cost concierge services, as they are now. It would put them in the hotel business and increase their need to constantly recruit new customers to replace those who only come stay on special occasions or when they need a really big room.

That's a lot of investment for an uncertain future, especially if your partner is chasing so many squirrels you doubt it will ever catch any of them.

Chase one squirrel at a time

I was always taught (though didn't actually learn) that to achieve something difficult you have to focus on one piece at a time, absolutely kill it, then go on to the next step.

VMware is charging out after the cloud, the desktop, the handheld, the database market, the service provider market and the integration market all at the same time.

It doesn't sound to me like a securely achievable business plan.

It's likely, given how well his vision matches current trends, that the computer industry will look a lot like Maritz says it will, and within a very few years.

Whether it looks like that because it's all built on the VMware layers he's trying to slip into many places all at once, against a lot of opposition, is the kind of question no one asks at the keynote of a big vendor conference.

It usually takes a couple of drinks and a chance to corner the big man at a reception some night later in the week.

Unless he has too many things on his plate to either show up, or stay long enough for questions.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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