Skeptics have met VMWare's decision to join OpenStack with suspicion

The latest trend in virtualization is the premise of software-design networks (SDNs) -- networks that separate their physical data switching from the logic that controls it.  The idea is to create sort of "router virtual machines", which in turn map to real network switching.

I. VMWare Changes Gears

VMWare, Inc. (VMW) -- the most dominant player in server-load virtualization, and an increasing force in virtualized storage systems -- has been eyeing this trend hungrily.  It made a big step forward into the SDN space in July, acquiring Nicira, a top SDN-geared startup, for $1.26B USD.

Nicira has an impressive and growing array of blue-chip clients of the internet world, including eBay, Inc. (EBAY), Rackspace Hosting, Inc. (RAX), AT&T, Inc. (T), and Fidelity.

The virtualization giant also scooped up DynamicsOps, a virtual workload management firm that supports, Inc. (AMZN) rival server-virtualization offering, in addition to VMWare's own solution.  The undisclosed purchase price is rumored to be over $100M USD.

Leveraging its new purchase VMWare has announced a new drive dubbed "software-defined data centers" (SDCs), which includes a mixture of software-controlled virtualized switching and security, coupled with a heterogeneous server-load virtualization scheme.

VMWare death star
VMWare has long been viewed by open-source advocates as the "evil empire" of the virtualization world. [Image Source: LucasFilm; modifications: Jason Mick/DailyTech]

II. Opening Up

The "heterogenous" part is a bit of a surprise, given that VMWare is essentially supporting customers who choose competitors of its core business over its own products.  In the past VMWare has expressed open disdain for those rivals (such as OpenStackCloudStack, and Eucalyptus), with VP Mathew Lodge calling them "ugly sisters".

Now VMWare is changing its tune, joining the OpenStack Foundation, and pledging to be more open, in the name of realizing its SDC vision.

OpenStack swag
Open source advocates have met VMWare's decision to join the OpenStack Foundation with suspicion. [Image Source: OpenStack]

Comments Stephen Herrod, VMWare's chief technology officer, to Network World, "Our goal is to deliver a cloud suite that makes it as easy as possible to build a software-defined data center, but we've also gotten clear feedback to enable choice. Most customers, we believe, will use the VMware environment for most of their production workloads, but they also may want to be able to interoperate with other platforms, such as OpenStack, Amazon and others. The key goal of networking, almost by definition, is that it has to connect everything."

Mr. Herrod says that by supporting rivals with DynamicOps, his company will strengthen its own capabilities.  He remarks, "At the top level, DynamicOps is a tool that helps people automatically place their applications where they want, based on constraints they may have about data privacy, or for example, requiring certain engineers to work in the least expensive infrastructure environment."

"Most people use it with VMware, but it also works with Amazon and it allows you to deploy to physical hardware, if you ever want to do that (laugh)."

Is the SDC VMWare's big step forward to openness, or a Trojan horse to
further lock customers in? [Image Source: VMWare]

III. Skeptics are Wary

So is VMWare, long-accused of price-gouging on enterprise licenses by feature disabling, finally relaxing its tight grip on the server-virtualization market?  Some are wary.

In a response to the Network World piece Jim Darragh, CEO of open-source server-virtualization software provider Abiquo, types an interesting rebuke commenting:

VMware’s decision to join the OpenStack Foundation was a surprise to no one. The move is an attempt by the cloud giant to appear open and prove that it ‘gets’ how open source works and its benefits.  VMware would like you to think that its interest is for the customer and not its own agenda.  It wasn’t so long ago that the creators of OpenStack shunned the crowd at VMware due to its proprietary, closed nature when it comes to managing the cloud.

VMware has a long history of locking customers into its product range rather than letting companies choose what technologies they want in their clouds. When you pay for a VMware license you pay for lots of features that you may not even use. We've spoken to customers who were having to pay for the enterprise licensing because they can’t live without one feature but the price difference between a standard and enterprise license is almost 300% - and they’re having to pay that just for one feature they need.

Cloud services companies would be better served evaluating solutions that take advantage of the technology they already have and which avoid vendor lock-in. There are cloud management platforms available now that are safe, secure, and interoperable with multiple hypervisors and heterogeneous infrastructure.

Clearly VMWare has a ways to go before it convinces the critics of its newfound open-source faith.

Sources: Network World, OpenStack Foundation

"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki

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