What's in store at VMworld this year?

Laurianne McLaughlin looks at the issues

The amount of virtualisation news and marketing bravado being slung around recently is huge: Microsoft formally launched its virtualisation strategy earlier this month, talking tough about price. VMware's VMworld event begins this week. And Citrix, Sun, Oracle and a supporting cast of third-party companies will be joining in too. So let's cut through some of the hype so far, then talk about what we really want to see happen at VMworld.

VMware is being played by many media outlets as the underdog right now in the fight against Microsoft. This seems a bit early to me.

True, VMware has had a turbulent few months, after dumping CEO Diane Greene and losing three key executives after letting her go (see below). New CEO Paul Maritz will try to outline the company's strategy at VMworld and both customers and Wall Street types will be listening closely.

What do customers want to see at VMworld? Most of all, from what I have heard from IT pros, they want to hear from their peers. They want to hear about how other companies are using virtualisation to make IT radically more flexible, to make IT become the department that says "yes" instead of "no". While many IT pros understand many tactical aspects of virtualisation well, they want to bring it to the strategic level now. Virtualisation is about much more than eliminating boxes and slashing power bills.

Second, IT shops want solid answers on management. VMware, which has long offered its own virtualisation management tools, will continue to stress a best of breed approach, Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf says, encouraging customers to blend virtualisation in with existing tools they're using from say HP or IBM.

The wave of third-party management tools companies like Cirba, Vizioncore and Akorri all agree that automation will be a key theme for virtualisation going forward. I'd be surprised if you don't hear VMware hammer on this theme hard this week. Make the routine tasks as routine and least-demanding of IT staffers time as possible. That should be a given.

Also expect plenty of talk regarding virtualisation security. Security should be moving much farther up on the to-do lists of virtualisation pros. While there are still plenty of unknowns in the virtualisation world (for instance, we have yet to see a hypervisor rootkit in the wild), IT shops are becoming more astute in at least asking the right security questions. VMware will try to use security as a competitive differentiator from Microsoft, Wolf says. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Finally, you're going to hear a lot about this year's buzzword bombshell, the cloud. Cloud computing remains an idea with wonderful potential that's in its infancy. Today, cloud computing makes many CIOs shudder with regards to availability, security and compliance issues. But they're seeing the potential for a few years from now.

And the time is now for VMware, Microsoft, Citrix and Sun to try and position themselves as the best choice to be running in that cloud infrastructure. The harder they work, the faster they can figure out how to answer some of those availability and security questions. So this cloud rivalry should work in your favour, even if you can't stand all the ridiculous jargon that will be thrown around in the fight.

As Chris Wolf put it to me, "It's nice to talk about a dynamic datacentre, but don't show me on a PowerPoint slide. Show me real products."

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