VMworld 2006 round-up

VMworld 2006 has been the biggest edition so far: VMware welcomed in Los Angeles Convention Center nearly 7000 attendees.

virtualization.info was present by gratious invitation and had opportunity to meet industry key figures from VMware, Microsoft, XenSource, Virtual Iron, SWsoft, PlateSpin, vizioncore, Surgient, VMLogix, Double Take, EqualLogic, Zeus Technology, IBM, HP and many others.

Below you’ll find a short report highlighting VMworld 2006 main points of interest.

The explicit message of this year has been: software as a service (SaaS).

VMware launched the Virtual Appliances Certification Program and the Virtual Appliances Marketplace (VAM) where ISVs can sell their virtual appliances, offering customers a reliable and controlled environment for their applications.

The entire VMware top management spend words endorsing this approach and several sessions have been focused on how to manage a datacenter populated with virtual appliances.

Even company products are going to reflect such effort: Workstation 6 will introduce for example a new Virtual Appliance View to let ISVs describe environment features at every system boot.

With virtual appliances VMware is trying to approach the software as a service (SaaS) philosophy in a different way than application virtualization: porting (and in a near future streaming, I bet) a whole environment instead of just applications.

This approach may be more successful than application virtualization since it doesn’t care about underlying operating system, allowing companies to use any kind of product, regardless of which platform the software has been written for. But for sure it is more resouces demanding and raises a whole new set of maintainance issues.

The implicit message has been: focus on Enterprises.

VMworld 2006 demonstrated current company little attention for SMBs:

  • few sessions were about Server and no mentions have been done about future of this product
  • upcoming Lab Manager lost support for hosted platforms (both VMware Server and Microsoft Virtual Server)
  • upcoming VMmark has some hardware requirements that several small realities will not be able to satisfy

Only Virtual Appliances initiatives, Marketplace and Certification Program, have been a good news for some small companies.

VMware is definitively spending a lot of its resources for enterprise-grade products and features and SMB could feel forgotten, but Raghy Raghuram, Vice President for Datacenter and Desktop Platform Products, assured new efforts in SMB segment for the coming year.

The overall theme has been competition.

The VMworld exhibitors floor showed booths from 89 exhibitors, plus an amount of other virtualization vendors representatives among crowd.

  • Microsoft, XenSource, Virtual Iron and SWsoft were all presents competing with VMware on plaftorm offering.
  • PlateSpin and Acronis were present competing with VMware on P2V offering.
  • Surgient and VMLogix were present competing with VMware on lab management offering.

Nonetheless VMware allowed all of them to show their products and insert marketing material inside welcome bags.

Unofficial reports mention PlateSpin and vizioncore as the most popular booth, while some big players like Citrix have been barely noted.

It was ironic how EMC Corporation, actually owning VMware, had so low popularity among attendees against competitor like HP and IBM, both present with respective booths.

After 3 years integration between two companies is still near zero and from a marketing point of view VMware does nothing to push EMC brand.

The overall impression has been of fierce competition even if not every company would admit it.

And competition has been greatly welcomed by attendees which have been hungry to discover alternatives on the market.

Among several notable sessions it’s worth to mention:

General sessions

Diane Greene (President and co-Founder) first and Dr. Mendel Rosenblum (Chief Scientist and co-Founder) then introduces big themes of this year’s edition in two general sessions.

To see them register here.


VMmark is trying to solve the very complex question of how to reliably calculate application performances in a virtual environment.

It approaches benchmarking in an unusual way, discarding the traditional approach of measuring a single operation (like I/O write) performed on the operating system.
VMware proposes to verify virtual environment performances by loading a mixed set of workloads, made of some specific applications, installed on specific operating systems, inside specifically sized virtual machines. Calculate overall score and compare against a reference score provided by VMware itself.

In details each set of workloads includes 6 virtual machines loaded with:

  • Database server (Oracle Database Server) on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 [2 vCPU + 2GB vRAM]
  • Mail server (Microsoft Exchange Server) on Microsoft Windows 2003 [2 vCPU + 2GB vRAM]
  • Web server (Apache) on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 [2 vCPU + 512MB vRAM]
  • File Server (Dbench) on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 [1 vCPU + 256MB vRAM]
  • Java application server (SPECjbb) on Microsoft Windows 2003 [2 vCPU + 2GB vRAM]
  • idle server (empty) on Microsoft Windows 2003 [1 vCPU + 256MB vRAM]

These virtual requirements imply measuring performances on a host machine with at least 8GB RAM and 2 physical CPUs, while each connecting client (perfoming requests against all 6 virtual machines at the same time) will have to have at least 2GB RAM and 2 physical CPUs.

The overall impression has been of a very early work, where a lot of questions (like binary-translation vs para-virtualization vs hardware assisted virtualization approaches) has still to be addressed before reaching a commonly agreed benchmarking system.

VMmark is aimed to become a SPEC standard, but at the moment Microsoft, XenSource and Virtual Iron are not partecipating in the work and has to be seen if they will officially accept the proposal.

The approach VMware is using (different applications on different operating systems) also implies that VMmark can’t be used to compare server virtualization against OS partitioning (SWsoft Virtuozzo for example). While this is surely correct from a technical point of view, it doesn’t help customers which don’t care what’s behind GUI and just want a way to compare performances and VM/core ratios.

Lab Manager 2.4

Lab Manager 2.4 is going to leverage previous good work from Akimbi in the VMware ecosystem, providing notable features to handle development and QA challenges:

  • self-service provisioning of single virtual machines or complex multi-tier environments
  • fast deploying capability thanks to linked clones
  • capability to run multiple copies of the same virtual machine without caring of networking and hostname details (fencing)
  • capability to save VM state in image library and perform debugging on it
  • capability to limit use of physical resources with permissions and quotas

Final release of Lab Manager 2.4 is expected for end of this year.

The overall impression has been of a still early modification of previous Akimbi work, where VMware decided to completely focus just on a reliable integration with VMware Infrastructure 3.

While this choice is understandable, it’s unpleasant see support drop for VMware Server and Microsoft Virtual Server.

At the moment is not clear if these hosted platforms will be supported in future releases and James Phillips, formerly Akimbi Founder and CEO and now Senior Director of Virtual Software Lifecycle at VMware, talked about existing Akimbi customers granting them notables incentive to move to ESX Server.

Next generation ESX Server Storage architecture

VMware is redesigning actual monolithic storaging architecture for ESX Server, working a pluggable framework where 3rd party vendors will be able to inject their multi-path and load balancing drivers.

This approach will speed up support for newest hardware, reduce time to recertify drivers when ESX Server changes, take advantage of vendor-specific features.
Storage vendors will be able to count on a VMkernel Development Kit and will be allowed to ship ESX plug-ins from themselves.

The overall impression has been that VMware really aims to change IT industry mindset, pushing ESX as a true operating system.

Allowing partners to deliver optimized drivers, in time with their new hardware releases, will create strong indirect sales opportunities, where storage vendors will find much desirable selling ESX Server in bundle with their equipment.

Workstation 6.0

Workstation 6 is going to introduce several new features, enhancing the product in usability, scalability and integration with other VMware products.

On the usability front we have to expect:

  • improved Host/Guest support (including Vista and para-virtualized Linux distributions with VMware VMI) and Drag & Drop capabiliies (cross-platform support coming)
  • new hardware support (including USB2 and multi-display)
  • new way to interact with virtual machines (background running VMs and VNC remote access)
  • new scripting capabilities (introducing the VIX API already used in Server 1.0)

but most of all new features for developers:

  • capability to invoke a virtual machine from Microsoft Visual Studio for code running and debugging
  • capability to replay everything happened in a virtual machine in any moment of its history (with pause, rewind and fast forward)

On the scalability front we’ll see even bigger improvements with:

  • no limit on overall allocated virtual RAM
  • virtual RAM limit per VM raised to 8GB
  • experimental support for 4-way vSMP
  • reduced limit to virtual PCI slots per VM

Integration with other VMware products is going to be notable as well:

Plus a lot more of other improvements.

Workstation 6 is actually in private beta (Friends & Family) and is expected to be opened to public before end of this year. No mention on final relase date planned.

The overall impression has been of a complex product becoming more and more focused on enterprise needs, better than Server in some scenarios.

I would not be surprised one day Server and Workstation would merge in a unique product, offering the web management console as an optional installation feature.

ACE 2.0

Unfortunately I missed this session (which anyway should be under NDA) so not much can be said.

One thing is already known: integration with Workstation 6 where ACE will be a superset of Workstation, allowing IT managers to easily upgrade to ACE Manager with the correct licensing code.

Another thing, unconfirmed, is possibility VMware will sign a deal with Cisco to use ACE 2.0 as part of Network Admission Control (NAC) endpoint security architecture.

(if you don’t have an idea of what endpoint security technologies are feel free to look at my blog about security tecnologies, Security Zero, where Cisco NAC and others have been covered several times)

Workstation for Mac OS (codename Fusion)

VMware didn’t release any session about upcoming Workstation for Mac OS but some details about it has been disclosed by Richard Garsthagen, Technical Marketing Manager at VMware, with a video, and Bob Roudebush, Director of Solutions Engineering at Double Take, with a review of current beta.

The big absentee of VMworld 2006 has been Server, as already said, with few sessions and no mentions about new features coming.

No space at all has been granted to the misterious VM Integrity instead, which should rely on virtual machines patch management at host level and which VMware is working on for sure, as this SearchServerVirtualization interview with Diane Greene confirms.

What has been announced during the conference timeframe:

Products and services from VMware:

Products and services from other virtualization vendors:

Alliances and partnerships

(both Virtualization Industry Radar and Virtualization Industry Roadmap have been updated accordingly)

A final word on the event itself

VMware did a very good job arranging a world-class event.

Conference material was high quality: welcome bag, notebook, conference guide, badge, general sessions directions, etc.

Logistics has been very good too: efficient transports to and from hotels, availability of press/analyst facitilies, availability of email stations, instructor-led and self-paced hand on labs, exam facilities, and free wireless access for all attendees.

Networking possibilities has been the best part: VMware arranged a big booth packed with a lot of company employees, with several special opportunities to meet the engineers.

Alumni, Core Customers, User Groups and Bloggers had also their own lounges where to meet each other and all attendees.

Nonetheless few things could be improved:

  • wireless connection has not been able to support the huge number of clients (I bet at list half of attendees had a notebook)
  • food was not the at the same level of everything else (both during conference and party)
  • quantity of sessions and networking opportunities absolutely require a longer conference to permit everybody to return on investment. Another day is mandatory.

At the end of the week VMworld has definitively been an event to attend. Highly recommended.