The World Has Changed Is Hardware Getting Softer?

A couple of months ago I attended VMworld for the first time. WOW! 17,000 people talking, queuing, eating, and partying, all about clouds and virtualization. Who would have thought?

vmworld attendees

When I came back I looked up the VMworld attendance along the years. The chart tells the virtualization story. And when you talk to the IT guys in the trenches, it makes perfect sense.  Virtualization makes their life easier, more flexible, and more scalable.

That’s the key. Virtualization truly changes the expectations of these IT managers and their executives. It’s not only hype (although there’s no shortage of hype). People really expect flexibility and scalability (both ways) from their infrastructure.

So how does this affect the old Hardware vs. Software battle?

Dramatically!

It’s already evident in the server space. Look at how servers are being marketed today: price and performance. That’s about it, or in other words, commoditization. VMWare, Hyper-V, and Xen, had turned servers into plain vanilla boxes.

The change doesn’t stop at servers. There is also a huge shift in the software marketplace, with new and old players bringing new products, as well as changing their existing products to adapt to this new dynamic, virtual IT infrastructure.

Being an ‘old storage guy’, and judging by what I see in the market today, I believe the most dramatic change is still ahead, and will take place in the storage world. Many have said in the past that storage is going to be commoditized. It is already starting.

A few years back there was a lot of hype on storage virtualization. Companies were raising huge amounts of money, made a lot of noise, and usually died quietly after burning all the money or got sold for pennies on the dollar. Storage virtualization was addressing a clear market pain. The solutions developed were actually solving this pain, but causing much greater pains. Now, when everything is becoming virtualized (who doesn’t use “virtualize first” policy?), most enterprises don’t really ask whether or not storage is going to be virtualized.

They ask what IS ‘storage’, and what is NOT really ‘storage’ anymore?

We learned to think of storage as big and expensive boxes full of highly complicated to configure features and services such as the EMC Symm or the HDS Lightning. They did everything inside the storage and applications were forced to be mapped to the storage. Now, when you run on top of a hypervisor and your storage is virtualized anyway (e.g. VMFS), does it really make sense to run all these services and operations inside the storage? Is there any benefit for replication, backup, encryption, clustering, etc. to stay outside the hypervisor, ‘looking up’ to the virtualization and application layers?

I think not.

And that’s why we start seeing new products being developed to deliver ‘virtual software’, providing software solutions for what was once considered pure hardware features and services. Look at the Cisco Nexus for example. Cisco, the 300 pound gorilla of networking, decided to run its next generation switch for virtualized environments as a software product. Who would have imagined a few years ago… In security, the software firewall developed by Altor Networks is challenging the hardware firewalls of Cisco and Checkpoint. Software instead of appliances!

It’s happening in networks and security. It will happen in storage, big time. Seems I am not the only one seeing this.

The way I see it, yes, virtualization is already making hardware much ‘softer’!

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