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Why VMware is betting big on containers, edge computing and IoT

With the server virtualisation game won, VMware is having to diversify into new areas, with cloud-native computing emerging as a top area of interest for the firm

VMware recently celebrated its 20th birthday, during which time it has popularised the twin notions of hypervisor technology and server virtualisation.

It is fair to say that without VMware and the trail it blazed through enterprise datacentres with its x86 hypervisor technology, cloud as we know it today would not exist, but its success has come at a price.

In that the problem the company now faces is that enterprise datacentres reached saturation point on server virtualisation a long time ago now, with analyst house Gartner declaring way back in 2016 that the average enterprise now has 80-90% of its server estate virtualised.

As a result, Gartner said – for companies like VMware specialising in this space – there are very few greenfield opportunities for them to go after in the enterprise market now, meaning most of their business now comes from licensing renewals and maintenance contracts.

Furthermore, the hypervisor as we know it is essentially done now in terms of functionality, as (somewhat) confirmed by how thin on the ground hypervisor-related updates were at the annual VMware user and partner conference, VMworld, which took place in Barcelona during early November 2018.

There are even many free hypervisor alternatives that are functionally complete and can compete at effectively the same level but without the cost, and this realisation appears to have prompted VMware re-invent itself in two distinct ways.

The first is the work the firm is doing to embrace the concept of containerisation, as part of a wider push to embrace the concept of cloud-native computing.

Purchase of Heptio

VMware has gone in heavy with this, with the purchase of open Kubernetes ecosystem leader Heptio, which marks a reinforcement of support in the company’s commitment to the container technology, which began in earnest with the rollout of it enterprise-focused Kubernetes platform earlier this year.

This gets them a very significant say in shaping the future direction of such technologies at enterprise levels. This is in addition to the new message that Kubernetes on the VMware stack is the way forward with some compelling options such as NSX.

VMware on the edge

What people may not be aware of is the direction VMware are taking with regards to edge computing and the internet of things.  

With large parts of the analyst community of the view that by 2025 most of the data collected by organisations will be done so in near real-time, there is a feeling that IoT adoption is on the cusp of exploding massively, and this has not gone unnoticed by VMware.

As proof of this, one only has to look at how the company demonstrated an instance of the VMware hypervisor running on a Raspberry PI 3. No one expected much to occur on a Pi3. More a proof of concept as well as a clever bit of marketing. That said, the code has not been made available to mere mortals yet.

There is a bigger picture behind it though. Centralised compute is very much “legacy” mode, eschewed in favour of Edge computing.

An example of this is IoT security infrastructure that we are all familiar with.  For several reasons a vast amount of IoT infrastructure runs on ARM infrastructure due to its reliability and power usage profile.

Other examples include wind farms. All this infrastructure needs reliable management. It’s not about raw CPU performance but reliability and local resilience.

VMware are working with OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to create ESXi for Edge to provide modular, ruggedised clusters.

Read more about cloud native deployments

One additional trick that VMware have up their sleeve is its vSAN hyper-converged software platform, which is being positioned by the company as technology that will give VMware a standing in the datacentre, the cloud and in edge computing environments.

It will achieve this by making it easier for users to manage their storage and compute workloads running in all these environments from one single platform, and emerged as a major talking point at both VMworld Europe and the US version of the conference.

The technology also means a low powered, resilient, highly efficient cluster can be built and even better, integrated into a centralised vCenter deployment.

More than that, it means that customers can provide robust and highly customised solutions (GPUs to help with recognition, data size reduction etc or other customisations) that meet their requirements.

Traditionally, suppliers in this space have had a poor track record of patching these devices due to remoteness and often poor update mechanisms - a problem that blights a lot of proprietary solutions. Having a standardised framework will help remediate this solution a lot.

This bodes well with the pretty much agreed upon fact that data is moving more and more to real-time data processing and real time analytics.

So, in closing, VMware is embracing the future and looking to the next big movement in technology, which is IoT, Edge and containers. As a VMware user it looks to be an interesting road and one that should, if played effectively, lead VMware to be a major player in these new markets.

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