VMware Paints Multi-Faceted Picture of Computing Future

Let’s put it this way—it’s a lot to take in over the course of 90 minutes. But given the extensive reach that server virtualization pioneer VMware’s products now have, once all the information starts to sink in, the company’s long-term strategy does make sense—even if it does fall a bit into the buzzword bingo trap.

Over the course of the opening day keynote at their VMWorld conference, the company managed to discuss the future of enterprise computing (it’s a hybrid cloud world where Kubernetes and containers are at the heart of corporate software transformation), driven in part by virtualized GPUs running AI/machine learning workloads, delivered to a wider range of devices (including enterprise-hardened Chromebooks from Dell), all secured from a zero trust model that’s integrated across devices, virtual machines, containers and more. Toss in a multi-faceted, but logical splitting of edge computing models that can leverage 5G connectivity and, well, there’s pretty much not many topics that VMware didn’t talk about.

Despite the overwhelming scope of the discussion, however, there was a fairly clear sense that the future of computing was on display—or at least, a vision for where that future could go. Not surprisingly, that future is extraordinarily software dependent. In fact, a quick summary of everything they said might essentially be, we’re working to virtualize everything from computing infrastructure to applications to networking and beyond into a set of software-defined services, and we’ll let you build, run and manage those services on any combination of hardware and in any set of locations that you’d like. Again, a lot to take in, but certainly a compelling idea and vision for the future.

On the enterprise application and cloud computing side of the world, the company debuted Tanzu, a set of products and services designed to make Kubernetes-focused containers the default type of structure for virtually all applications, including modern cloud-native ones and even older legacy apps. Specifically, Tanzu Mission Control will provide a centralized place to manage both containers and virtual machines in a single place, even when they’re spread across multiple cloud environments, local data centers, co-location facilities and more. As companies start to transition towards more cloud-native programs, they’re running into challenges in trying to manage all these new applications alongside existing applications running in virtual machines. Mission Control is designed to help with that process.

In addition, the company debuted Project Pacific, a technology preview of a capability being built into the next version of their vSphere virtual machine platform. Project Pacific embeds Kubernetes capabilities into vSphere and allows virtual machines to be converted into and run as containers without having to rewrite, or refactor, the underlying application. The idea is to give companies tools to turn all their applications into containers and then provide a unified management console that makes the process of running and managing these applications much easier.

Within the applications themselves, VMware also announced a partnership with Nvidia that lets server-based GPUs be virtualized in order to run AI and machine learning workloads more efficiently. CPU virtualization has been at the heart of VMware’s offerings since the company’s debut, but the move to virtualize GPUs for AI is a recent phenomenon and a logical extension to both VMware and Nvidia’s business. The companies also specifically partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to offer an Nvidia T4-accelerated EC2 bare metal computing instance, allowing companies to move GPU-dependent workloads from their private data centers to the cloud with AWS.

From a client perspective, VMware also made several interesting announcements, including some additions to their Workspace One digital workspace offering, as well as the debut of extended management services for Chromebooks. One of the highlights of Workspace One is a new IBM Watson-powered voice assistant that’s designed to provide intelligent, contextual information to employees as they interact with their devices, corporate applications and company services. It’s an interesting choice not to go with Alexa or Google Assistant for this, but also highlights how both VMware and IBM likely want to take a different, more corporate-focused path for their assistant. For client hardware, VMware made a joint announcement with its partner Dell to add Unified Workspace management support for Dell’s new Latitude Chromebook Enterprise notebooks—emphasizing the increasing diversity of client devices that these new cloud-computing focused application delivery models enable. In addition, the two companies announced an extension of Workspace One that lets it monitor and verify the state of Dell SafeBIOS on supported Dell hardware. It’s a yet another small but interesting example of how the two companies are starting to leverage the connection between them to deliver a better together experience.

There’s no question that the vision VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger laid out in his opening keynote is a broad, bold view of a completely software-defined, virtualized and services-driven world. Realizing the vision is, of course, much harder than simply describing it, but it appears the company is taking a number of key steps in the right direction, particularly through an aggressive series of new acquisitions. Integrating all the new pieces into the vision puzzle won’t be easy, and the process of getting companies/customers to modernize their applications and infrastructure is likely to take much longer than VMware would like to see. Still, VMware has been building off the same core strategy of software defined capabilities for several years now and as they extend that strategy to integrate newer developments like containers and Kubernetes, they certainly appear to be on a compelling path forward.

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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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