I attended this morning’s VMWare roundtable, debating the rather silly proposition that IT should be removed from the boardroom agenda. To be fair, even VMWare does not really believe this, but is arguing that its virtualisation technology makes IT service provision so trouble-free that the board can focus on IT as it advances their business, rather than just keeping the show on the road. I don’t believe that either, though no doubt it can help. It was nevertheless interesting to hear Jim Fennell, Information Systems Manager for the Lagan Group, explain how his virtual infrastructure allowed him to run up servers or applications such as SharePoint on demand, with internal charges based on usage.
The very definition of a private cloud, in fact; and this chimed nicely with some other research I’ve been doing on cloud security. Current cloud computing models are flawed, for the following reason among others.
So-called private clouds do not relieve organisations of the IT burden, though they may simplify it, and do not fully yield the benefits of multi-tenancy, elasticity and economies of scale except perhaps in the case of the largest enterprises, or governments.
On the other hand, public clouds are also flawed, because the customer retains legal responsibility for their data but loses operational responsibility. That split surfaces in debates about SLAs, legal liability and consequential loss, compliance with regulations concerning data location and segregation, and conflicts over whether customers should have the right to audit their cloud provider’s technology and security practices. The public cloud is not yet mature; it lacks the standards and regulatory frameworks that it needs, though work is being done.
VMWare may not mind about this, because it has positioned itself as the first choice for technology to drive private clouds. I talked to Chief Operating Office Tod Nielsen (formerly of Microsoft) after the event, and he told me that the majority of enquiries from potential customers relate to setting up private cloud infrastructures.
Another big growth area is desktop virtualisation, where customers with thousands of aging PCs running Windows XP want their next desktop upgrade to be their last, and see virtual desktops as a route to that goal.
I am intrigued by the desktop issue, since maintaining desktop PCs remains a significant maintenance challenge. The rise of non-PC devices is also relevant here. Isn’t the future more in pure web applications – perhaps enhanced with RIA technologies like Flash and Silverlight – rather than in virtual desktops? Nielsen said that the huge numbers of legacy applications out there made this impossible in the near future.
Nevertheless, you can see how VMWare is planning for more of a pure web play longer term, with acquisitions such as the Java application framework Springsource. One idea that was mentioned during the roundtable was a sort of server app market, where you can plug in pre-built applications into VMWare’s ESX platform.
Finally, one side-effect of increasing desktop virtualisation, in Nielsen’s view, is that more users will choose to run Apple Macs as the host. He also says that the number one customer request, in the weeks since Apple’s announcement, is for iPad support for their virtual clients. Make of that what you will.