I attended VMworld 2011 in Las Vegas last week. As a first-timer, the spectacle of Vegas and the size of the event seemed well matched, even though a few thousand folks from the east coast didn’t make it. “Only” 19,000 attended Paul Maritz’ keynote from a previously-suggested 25k. My take on the keynote was that VMware have twigged the game is up: the early adopters in the fast-moving x86 server and software market are in a cloud of some sort, and most are using VMware. (Homework: add up the percentages the major vendors claim as theirs – more than 100%?)
The problem now seems to be getting the core of medium to large business’ workloads into the cloud or at least onto cloud-enabled internal deployments (read: more VMware licenses). The reasons for this challenge include risk profile (large organisations can’t afford a critical system to fail a migration; and currently tend to use the cloud for bursty, non-critical test/dev workloads), and the fact that larger application and database stacks are already very well optimised to the platforms they run on – aside from the small matter that they mostly don’t run on x86 platforms.
The buzz around cloud isn’t lost on these mid-market vendors though: IBM, Oracle/Sun and HP all provide RISC processor-based virtualisation and workload splitting already (and have done for years before VMware came along). To me, the challenge seems to lie with VMware compelling the mid-tier apps to be rewritten for the x86 platform and thence take advantage of virtualisation and the cloud; or for enterprises to migrate their needs to cloud-based software offerings that do the same job, cheaper and more flexibly.
Enter Platform as a Service. Though considered very early stage, an environment that leverages cloud technologies to provide an environment for applications to run and scale seamlessly without having to consider discrete servers is seen as increasingly attractive. VMware’s own CloudFoundry framework aims to provide a ready-to-roll toolkit for providers to set up a software platform that allows developers to bring their codebase and run it straight out of the box; no concept of compilation or library incompatibility – it “just works.” They also have a hosted solution to allow the application mobility nirvana to come to fruition.
The thinking goes that if the larger scale business applications can survive a port to newer languages and frameworks, or be supplanted by software components that co-exist and leverage one another in a Platform-as-a-Service environment, the underlying platform will become irrelevant and level the playing field.
I wonder: are the application tower-builders such as Oracle ready for this wave?