Have you ever sat in on a TelePresence meeting? It really makes you think about how technology can make distance disappear, and bring together people across a wide geography for the purpose of collaborating and sharing ideas. Such is the case with the National Townhall on Desktop Virtualization I participated in recently, along with VMware.
Seven industry experts from seven US cities, discussing the impact or key learnings of implementing desktop virtualization in government, healthcare and education. I was joined by my colleague Chris Westphal of VMware, and our panelists, bringing firsthand experiences of their journey to desktop virtualization. If you want to attend the interactive webcast of this event, please click here – I think you’ll find it incrementally valuable if you’re on the verge of a pilot, proof of concept or just researching your options.
This experience reminded me of something important regarding the transformation of the user desktop as we know it. Immersive business video is increasingly becoming a modality of enterprise collaboration that workers will depend on to be productive. Consider the fact that ten people had meaningful discourse in this session, without any of them having to board a plane. IP telephony is the same – we can’t imagine a day without access to our phone. So when we talk about using virtual desktops making people more productive, and making business more agile, it makes total sense that we expect by extension of that premise, voice, video and virtual desktops to converge in a single workspace that’s accessible on any device, anywhere. We depend on all of these modalities to be effective, not just one.
Last week the Cisco team embarked on VMworld 2011 event in Las Vegas. For me, it was fun catching up with many of my friends from VMware, Wyse, Citrix (Kaviza, RingCube), and Atlantis Computing while building new connections with folks from AppSense, RES Software, and Teradici just to name a few. The virtualization ecosystem seems strong and healthy. And with a record-breaking +24,000 attendees, its apparent that this "virtualization stuff" is still top of mind for many IT professionals. Now that the dust has settled from all the Vegas activities and announcements, I want to share some thoughts on some of the big trends and themes that jumped out at me during the conference.
Focus on the “User Experience”
Whether it’s Projects AppBlast, Octopus, or Unified Communication (UC) announcements, the virtualization industry is moving beyond just enabling flexible backend infrastructure toward what business executives and end-users often care about most - technologies that enrich their professional lives:
Prior to VMworld, Gartner’s Mark Margevicius and Chris Wolf (twitter @cswolf) both received early previews of Cisco’s next generation Virtualization Experience Client (VXC) portfolio strategy and vision. Building off their guidance and encouragement, the Cisco VXI team decided to start an active outreach campaign to solicit more feedback from the market on where we are headed and how we can do better. Cisco, VMware and Wyse agreed to partner up for VMworld to host a NDA, invitation-only VXI Whisper Suite to an influential group of customers, partners, and industry insiders. note: VXI = Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (think VDI++)
Unfortunately, I am unable to publicly discuss the "secrets" that were "whispered" in the VXI Whisper Suite but what I can say is the Cisco VXI team remains focused on delivering the best possible “User Experience” that unifies the worlds of virtualization, voice, video, telepresence, and collaboration in a way that’s unique and immersive.
Also, without revealing any specific names of customers who attended, I can say it was an impressive group of some of the top IT executives from several Fortune 500/ Global 2000 companies. The audience members in general were open, honest and candid about what they saw and we greatly appreciate all the feedback we received. Overall, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
Below are 3 short video clips from some of the top industry thought-leaders, partners, and customers just minutes after leaving our VXI Whisper Suite. Their feedback was consistent to what we heard all week -- thanks to Alex Van Deusen for conducting these quick interviews:
Ruben Spruijt (twitter @rspruijt) reaction to Cisco VXI Whisper Suite
Steve Kaplan (twitter @roidude) reaction to VXI Whisper Suite
Large Enterprise customers (Financial & Healthcare) reaction to VXI Whisper Suite
Apps, Data... and the Cloud
VMware’s new project AppBlast was clearly the "buzz" of the entire event. Scott Davis, VMware CTO for EUC, introduced AppBlast as part of his 2013 and beyond roadmap. With AppBlast, VMware has introduced a tech preview of a new product offering that allows customers to take their “fat applications” particularly on Windows and make them accessible from any modern browser by "automagically" wrapping those legacy applications with HTML5 (no rewrite required). If this works as well as the demonstration showed, this could dramatically ease the transition to a cloud-computing approach where any app on any device using any modern browser becomes a more tangible reality. Kudos to VMware for making this bold move - you have every virtualization enthusiasts' attention and many of us want to see this materialize into a real product soon.
VMware’s project Octopus was a close second as the highlight of the event. VMware describes this as “Dropbox for the Enterprise” which is not as impressive in concept as AppBlast since there are several startups offering variants of a “Dropbox” type product with greater degrees of central IT control, security enforcement, auditing, and policy management. Without a doubt, this is something that the IT industry wants a more established leader to deliver upon. If VMware can pull it off and gain wide adoption, this could be a significant achievement.
Storage, storage, storage – not done yet
Virtualization has fundamentally changed the way we architect and build our datacenters. The combination of x86 server computing and virtualization is like the combination of peanut butter and chocolate -- “two great tastes that taste great together”
However, far too often a sour lemon taste spoils the datacenter fun for workloads like desktop virtualization. And that lemon is legacy storage particularly in the form of Fiber Channel based SAN. As more customers get comfortable with desktop virtualization, they often remind us… “yes, we want to move more aggressively with desktop virtualization but going from a regular PC with the cheapest storage in the world into the datacenter with the most expensive storage in the world, those basic economics slow us down.”
So it was not a big surprise that the expo floor was booming with new storage startups to address this market need. Further, this year’s Best of VMworld Desktop Virtualization Winner was given to a hardware startup, Nutanix, which brings together commodity storage and x86 compute in a scale out fashion with a logo and motto reminiscent of Wyse's "No PC" except it's "No SAN":
Personally, I think it’s interesting but taking a dual-prong approach of competing against x86 server vendors and SAN storage vendors will be a delicate tightrope for that team to cross. I wish them the best.
The storage startup at VMworld that seemed most promising and innovative to folks like Manny Rivelo (EVP, Cisco) and I was Coraid, a new SAN scale-out company not using FC, FCoE, or iSCSI. Instead, Coraid let's customers mix-n-match any combination of SSD (Flash), SATA, and SAS drives attaching via Raw Ethernet. The Coraid founder is Brantley Coile who invented a new protocol called ATA over Ethernet (AoE). This isn't the first time Brantley has created something groundbreaking. He also holds the key patent for NAT (Network Address Translation) and built the company that gave Cisco's its first stateful firewall and load-balancer back in the late 1990s. It’s still early days for this startup but Coraid is one company to watch because they already have over 1500 customers, several impressive public Cloud deployments and very unique technology. According to Gartner, 40-60% of today's VDI budgets are spent on storage but does anyone believe 40-60% of the solution value reside in that storage? If new innovations like AoE become pervasive in virtualized datacenters, those days of 40-60% of VDI spending toward storage may come to an end and more explosive adoption of virtual desktops will become a new reality.
Healthy ecosystem = experimentation and innovation
With so many new start-ups in the market and a robust virtualization ecosystem, I believe we will look back on this era as a healthy time for both experimentation and innovation. Personally, I'm ecstatic about how our industry is trying to improve the user experience for corporate computing, ease the transition to cloud applications and data delivery, and fundamentally change the way we architect storage in a virtualized datacenter and the public cloud.
What do you think of the "signal to noise" ratio in virtualization today? Is all this experimentation just too much "noise" and not enough "signal" (innovation)? Do you think this year's VMworld was about a lot more than apps, data, and rich collaborative experiences delivered from the cloud?
The Digital Revolution is Upon Us (watch it below):
Please share your thoughts in the comments below...
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