Apologetic VMware CEO makes peace offering of ‘virtual volumes’


By Scott M. Fulton, III 

There’s a huge difference between “openness” and “partnership”. An “open” strategy is typically intended to spread one’s wealth throughout a market equally, in an effort to build a platform. The latter is an exclusive arrangement through which the partners expect to attain a competitive advantage.

Then there’s the situation where a vendor tries to engineer a competitive advantage for itself when it also has partners to consider. That was the case with VMware. Last year at this time, the company announced a Virtual SAN initiative with its corporate parent EMC. It’s hard to characterize a parent company as a partner–though VMware certainly tried.

The move was widely feared to be VMware leveraging the storage prowess of EMC to gain some competitive advantage for itself. Monday morning, during the Day 1 keynote at VMworld in San Francisco, CEO Pat Gelsinger found himself apologizing to partners for the way all that turned out.

He discussed the ongoing beta cycle for VSAN 2.0, which is being shipped as part of the beta for vSphere 2.0. But there’s another part of vSphere 6 called virtual volumes, or vVols (pronounced “vee-vols,” like Boris Badonov saying “weevils”). Originally, they weren’t supposed to be interchangeable. But when vVols began addressing partners’ expectations about what they expected VSAN to be, the vVol ended up being an adequate olive branch.

“When we announced VSAN… I apologize to you, our industry partners, particularly in the storage area,” said Gelsinger, “because one of our theses of disruptive innovation is always enabling the ecosystem to come along. And VSAN didn’t enable you to do that. VVol does, and we’re committed to delivering this to participate in the software automation and policy management of that platform, as we continue to innovate on VSAN and the integrated technology that comes as part of vSphere 6.”

VSAN’s purpose is to pool various storage resources, including HDD and flash memory, into what appears to VMs to be a single pool. Partners have an interest in producing hardware that supports VSAN just as easily as it supports a physical SAN from EMC, and Dell has been one of those partners. Other companies that produce so-called converged infrastructure technology have an interest in being compatible with vSphere.

But last February, the fact that some of those partners would actually compete with VMware in the virtual storage space directly–specifically, for contracts with OEMs like Dell–led to their being disinvited from VMware’s annual partner conference. One of them was Nutanix, a producer of converged storage software. In June, Nutanix responded to the snub by entering into an OEM agreement directly with Dell–perhaps VMware’s most valuable single partner–to integrate Nutanix software into Dell’s XC Series storage appliances, often bundled with its PowerEdge servers.

The public partnership forced VMware to turn up the volume, as it were, on vVol, literally days later.

“For the first time, and unlike previous beta cycles for vSphere, the vSphere beta and VVols beta are open for everyone to sign up,” wrote VMware senior architect Rawlinson Rivera on his company’s blog last June 30. “This approach allows participants to help define the direction of the world’s most widely adopted, trusted and robust virtualization platform. With Virtual Volumes (VVols), VMware offers a new paradigm, one in which an individual virtual machine and its disks, rather than a LUN, become a unit of storage management for a storage system. Virtual volumes encapsulate virtual disks and other virtual machine files, and natively store the files on the storage system.”

By some accounts, the vVol beta program (upper- or lower-case initial “v,” depending upon whom you ask) has been one of VMware’s most popular. If partners, and eventually the world, come to embrace vVols, one will wonder what happens when the parent company finds itself holding the wrong end of the stick.

For more:
– read this CRN article on VMware’s limitations on storage vendors
– see Nutanix’s announcement on the Dell agreement
– read VMware’s announcement of beta programs

Related Articles:
VMworld 2014: Will vRealize lend ‘definition’ to the SDDC?
VMware acquires CloudVolumes, Windows’ answer to Docker containers

Read more about: Pat Gelsinger

Jarrett Neil Ridlinghafer
Founder & CEO/CTO
Synapse Synergy Group, Inc.