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The Top Two Technologies at VMworld Assume a Pre-Existing Virtualized Environment

In the week that has passed since VMworld 2012 ended, I have had some time to contemplate the best technologies announced or on display at the show. In reflecting on what I saw at the show and while constructing my short list of what I considered the “Top Two,” it struck me that the premise upon which many of these technologies are based has changed. They are less about filling the gaps that VMware vSphere leaves. Instead they focus on capitalizing on the vSphere platform that VMware has built.

Most technologies now on display at VMworld begin with the premise that your environment is either mostly virtualized or shortly will be. While that may seem intuitive to anyone attending a show entitled “VMworld,” even as recently as a few years ago that was not the case.

Companies at that time were either still exploring virtualization or, if they had started to virtualize their infrastructure, were still in the early stages of implementing it and dealing with the challenges that virtualization presented (data protection, performance optimization, etc.) As such, they were looking for products and solutions that would help them address those issues.

However as I alluded to in my blog entry from last week, VMware has matured. No longer are people running from booth to booth looking for solutions to their challenges as they did years ago. Now they are starting to think about how they can build on and/or better support the virtualized environment that they have created. This is what the top two technologies that I identified at VMworld deliver.

The first such technology is the Avnet CloudPod. My guess is that most have never heard of Avnet much less of its CloudPod offering. Further, Avnet certainly did not do itself any favors from a visibility perspective by being tucked away in one of the far corners of the VMworld show floor.

In terms of what Avnet does as a company, it operates as a distributor which is a world that is mostly hidden from the eyes of end-users. However EVERY VAR and hardware manufacturer in the US and probably the planet are well aware of Avnet and what it does.

Avnet is the company behind the scenes that supplies and often puts together the hardware/software solutions that eventually end up on many data center floors. Exactly how the whole process works is still even a little bit of a mystery to me but needless to say, Avnet does exist and plays a major but hidden role in the delivery of technology that most businesses use.

In terms of the Avnet CloudPod, it competes directly against the vBlock (EMC/Cisco/VMware) and FlexPod (NetApp/Cisco/VMware) offerings of the world. Like these offerings, it is also an architecture that provides a guarantee that all of the hardware and its supporting firmware/operating systems in the virtualization stack (servers, switches and storage) are compatible and can be treated as a single logical entity from a VMware support perspective.

Where CloudPod differs is that it is the first such hardware stack that is also heterogeneous. In other words, it can use server, networking and storage hardware from any hardware vendor at any of these three levels to create a single logical entity that guarantees support of a VMware virtualized stack.

So this got my attention for the simple reason that if anyone can pull off creating such a heterogeneous stack of hardware it is probably Avnet. It has access to the hardware and the firmware from multiple hardware providers plus (I am guessing) the facilities to build out these different types of hardware stacks and then test and certify each configuration.

My concern with such a configuration is two-fold. First, it plans to use VARs to sell its CloudPod offering. However since Avnet as a brand has so little name recognition among end-users, I question how successful their sales efforts will be.

Second, even if it is successful in selling it, how well Avnet can track each individual heterogeneous CloudPod configuration at each customer site is unclear. I am guessing this will require some pretty sophisticated tracking software and an above average relationship with the VARs who are selling and supporting these CloudPods to ensure they can deliver the levels of availability and support that customers buying CloudPods would expect and demand.

The other technology that also caught by eye at VMworld 2012 was Quest Software’s NetVault Extended Architecture (XA). One of the interesting trends that has been occurring in data protection for some time (and which is a situation that VMware has only exacerbated) is the proclivity for enterprises to use more than one backup software product in their environment.

Prior to the introduction of VMware, most enterprises were already using 2 or 3 backup software products to protect their physical environment. The introduction of VMware did not help that situation as most enterprises also brought along its own set of backup software to protect their virtual machines (VMs.) This resulted in the number of backup software products in many enterprises swelling from the 2 or 3 they had before to 4 or 5 now.

The mindset to date of most backup software providers is to convince the organizations to stop using this multitude of backup software products and instead standardize on one. While interesting, that is like trying to convince a devout Christian to become a believing Muslim or a hard-core Republican to become a steadfast Democrat. It happens but it is not easy and it certainly does not occur overnight.

Quest Software’s NetVault XA recognizes these backup software conversions occur infrequently. So rather than trying to make that argument, Quest Software introduced its NetVault XA that manages multiple backup software products from a single management console.

I had a chance to get a demo of this product and talk with the product manager while at VMworld and it was already quite impressive as to what it could do.  One of its more notable features was its ability to give application owners the ability to recover jobs on their specific servers regardless of the backup software product in use on that server. Another was its ability monitor the status of backup jobs – again, regardless of the backup software running on that server.

In talking to Quest, the original intent of this product was to serve as a management console for just its backup software products (FastRecover, NetVault Backup, vRanger, etc.) However since Quest is becoming part of Dell and Dell has existing relationships with CommVault and Symantec and has also purchased AppAssure and SonicWall, it is reasonable to conclude that the scope of NetVault XA may be expanded to support backup software products well beyond Quest’s existing offerings.

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