I'm currently in San Francisco as a guest of VMware at the annual VMworld conference. This year's event has 17,000 registered delegates, well up from the 12,000 who attended, and a huge leap from the 1400 who attended the first event in 2004.
VMware is the company that brought a technology called virtualisation to the fore in business computing, initially giving companies a way of getting better utilisation from their server hardware, then evolving to become a technology supplier underpinning the development of cloud computing. Cloud computing itself is an essential component of the ongoing movement of IT being delivered as an on-demand service for the organisations that use it. According to VMware, IT as a service means optimising IT production for business consumption.
The keynote session was hosted by VMware president and CEO Paul Maritz, who opened by quoting IDC figures that showed the number of applications deployed on virtual infrastructure exceeded the number deployed on non-virtualised hardware. More than 10 million virtual machines will be deployed in 2010, with a rate of growth of 28 percent annually.
Maritz talked about virtualisation as being the new layer of innovation in IT. There are several goals being pursued, such as moving from hardware efficiency to operational efficiency through greater automation and improved management of computing, storage and networking needs. Security is a strong focus for the company, going beyond the need to secure physical infrastructure through checks at physical boundaries, to dealing with security in an environment where the boundaries are blurred. How virtual infrastructure is consumed and paid for is also important, through allowing companies to create virtual data centres that are linked by applications and policies rather than the location of physical hardware. The end goal is the ability to create a secure hybrid cloud where applications can be easily run either inside or outside of the organisation's own IT service.
According to Maritz, what will emerge is a new set of technologies for the development and delivery of a new set of applications that are built specifically for virtualised environments, through the creation of new open programming frameworks and tools such as Spring and Ruby On Rails, and new programming languages.
He also talked about the changing role of the operating system, whose function had previously been to abstract to hardware and provide services to applications. That role is being taken apart, with the hardware management handled increasingly by the virtualisation layer and the services role taken by the framework, making operating systems just one part of a larger picture.
There are also a lot of real challenges along the way. Maritz said that while IT managers have struggled for years to manage Windows desktops, now they must also deal with cloud applications that are being brought into organisations often without approval from IT. Maritz says VMware itself is now using 15 uninvited software-as-a-service applications. Managing those applications and the devices with which users are accessing them presents a new consideration for IT managers.
Maritz concluded his opening with the assertion that the new infrastructure, the new application platform and end user access as the new 'stack' in computing.
Next up was chief technology officer Dr Stephen Herrod, who talked more specifically about VMware products, including its flagship vSphere 4.1 software. He also talked about the company's acquisition of Integreon, a company focused on the management and analysis of virtual environments. He also talked a new product, previously dubbed Project Redwood, VMware vCloud Director, which makes it easier to provide access to application as a service within the data centre, and a new line of security products within its vSheild product line.
He also talked about VMware's desire to build a cloud application platform to provide the basis for a new generation of rich cloud applications, and VMware's end-user computing experience efforts to help companies combine in-house and externally-hosted applications through VMware View 4.5. That effort is underpinned by Project Horizon, which enables IT managers to manage which cloud-based applications users can get access to. The project is also making efforts to improve the experience of users accessing those applications on different devices, such as the iPad or some of the new Android devices such as the Dell Streak.
"This is where are headed - IT as a services, with happy users," Herrod said.