What to expect from VMworld Europe 2008

VMware's industry conference will be a chance for the company to show customers and partners whether it has the vision to match its exceptional growth to date

Following its highly successful IPO last August, VMware is a company in transition from being a solid and fast-growing player to becoming a top-tier vendor.

This week sees Cannes host the company's first VMworld Europe conference, which will be a chance for partners and customers to assess how fully they want to embrace the virtualisation message.

One of the themes of the three-day show appears to be a push towards virtualisation as an enterprise-wide infrastructure strategy, from the data centre right the way through to the desktop.

"Virtualisation only truly works when applied throughout the whole ecosystem. Virtualising only some infrastructure layers is counterproductive, causing gains and benefits in one layer and complexities and losses elsewhere. If organisations want to see a successful transformation from a physical to virtual infrastructure, then a virtualised ecosystem is essential," said John Rollason, virtualisation specialist NetAPP's marketing manager.

Microsoft is also likely to be fairly vocal on virtualisation, as next Wednesday sees the official launch of Windows Server 2008, which will eventually be accompanied by its hypervisor-based virtualisation system Hyper-V. Although it appears there may now be a wait for Hyper-V — Microsoft's UK product manager for virtualisation and management, Neil Sanderson, this week confirmed it will be available anywhere up to 180 days after the product was released to manufacturing on 4 February this year.

Although VMworld is VMware's show, there will be over 50 companies at the event, and doubtless there will be talk of standards and interoperability. Certainly, with various strains of virtual technology being brought together at once, such as desktop, data and operating system virtualisation, there is a need for interoperability and greater management of the virtualisation process as a whole. "Managing the physical and virtual environments with a consistent set of policies will be key to avoiding system sprawl, as provisioning servers for virtualisation can now be done so rapidly," said Microsoft's Sanderson.

The crowds will no doubt be keen to find out whether Europe is ready for wide-scale enterprise-level virtualisation, or whether the event is an elaborate sales pitch for solutions that companies presently lack the resources or skill set to handle. "VMworld Europe will be a barometer for VMware and the progress of virtualisation adoption in Europe in general. Server virtualisation adoption here is seen to lag [behind] the US somewhat, in terms of scale and scope of deployment, although we don't see much difference in the maturity of organisational and cultural process adoption for virtualisation in Europe versus the US," said William Fellows, principal analyst at technology industry analyst firm The 451 Group.

Given the immaturity of Europe's experience with virtualisation compared to the US, we can expect plenty of discussion on the key factors required for its development and adoption, such as language localisation requirements.

While European adoption of virtualisation experiences a variety of growing pains, much will be made of our, until now, flawed perception of how and where this technology should fit into system architectures. According to Gary Owen, systems practice marketing manager for Sun UK: "These perception problems are a function of much of the market mistakenly seeing virtualisation as a commodity technology. The right knowledge and service skills are essential to implement virtualisation effectively. It's not one size fits all."

Partners are likely to be intrigued by VMware's own vision and strategic approach for embedding virtualisation into the European IT ecosystem. "There are two approaches to virtualisation: enhancing existing platforms, or introducing a new platform. We believe VMware is pursuing the second approach, and that introduces a lot of challenges, lots of new skill sets are required, and it won't be easy," said Serguei Beloussov, chief executive of desktop virtualisation specialist Parallels.

According to Citrix, over the next few years virtualisation will lead to the automation of IT management. IT managers will no longer need to allocate servers to specific applications. Rather, resources consumed by an application will be provided on-demand according to pre-agreed policies. So we can expect a host of statistics to be available to justify the measurable benefits of adopting all forms of virtualisation. The words "IT efficiency and business performance" will no doubt be on everyone's lips.

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