VMware 2011: The good, the bad, and the cloudy

VMware may be the crowned server virtualization leader, but not everything went its way in 2011

VMware was a busy company in 2011. Instead of resting on its laurels, the currently crowned virtualization technology leader continued to be a mover and a shaker -- although not everything went its way.

If there's any doubt VMware continued its virtualization dominance this year, a quick look at their financials puts the issue to rest. According to the third-quarter report in October, VMware's total revenue for the quarter was $942 million, up 32 percent from a year earlier. That's a significant accomplishment in a down economy and with companies like Citrix, Microsoft, and Red Hat gunning to take away virtualization market share.

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So how did VMware do it? What moves helped or hurt the company during 2011? And which decisions were a bit cloudy one way or the other?

Let's start with the good.

The launch of vSphere 5

vSphere 5 was a major release for VMware, updating the flagship server virtualization platform with more than 200 new features and improvements over 4.x and keeping VMware ahead of the growing and improving competition from Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V, as well as from newcomers Red Hat and Oracle.

VMware's goal for quite some time has been to enable customers to become 100 percent virtualized, and vSphere 5 removed the obstacles that keep people from virtualizing mission-critical applications. One such advance is being able to create monster-sized VMs with 32-way processors, up to 1TB of memory, and increased I/O capabilities. VMware also took things to a new level with advancements in Storage DRS and storage intelligence, an improved VMFS file system, and a number of updates to staple features such as vMotion, Storage vMotion, and virtual networking.

For the most part, VMware has scored very well in the "bugs" category. Beyond all the new features, the fact that there were no show-stopping bugs that required a quick service pack says a lot about the workmanship that went into vSphere 5's development and testing.

Diving deeper into the management stack

I'm sure the executive team at VMware is tired of hearing pundits talk about the hypervisor as commodity. But in all honesty, isn't it? VMware has started giving away its once-upon-a-time gravy train hypervisor in the form of ESXi. In the early days of VMware (circa early 2000s), that's what you bought, VMware ESX Server! It wasn't until VMware VI3 and vSphere that they included any sort of real application or management stack around the hypervisor. In 2011 VMware understood that the management stack would be its virtual bread and butter, and at VMworld 2011 the company's management strategy finally became clear to the rest of the world.

Rather than leave operations monitoring, capacity management, and configuration management to the Big 4 or to its own third-party ecosystem, VMware has begun competing with these companies to become the de facto standard management software solution for a VMware environment. For VMware, the strategy is about automation and delivery of application service levels. We need only to watch products like vCenter Operations as they advance to see where VMware plans on taking the market.

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