The Race for the Software-Defined Enterprise

By Michael Vizard

At this juncture, it’s clear that, in terms of efficiency and scale, the management of the data center will soon make some fundamental leaps forward. Rather than relying on expensive human labor, IT organizations are increasingly using software to automate the management of data centers in a way that scales to unprecedented levels.

This fundamental shift in the way IT is managed is creating an intense contest for control of those data centers between VMware, Microsoft and a host of vendors that are actively promoting the emerging OpenStack framework. At the moment, thanks to a significant head start and the deep loyalty of many CIOs, it appears that VMware is building an early lead that its rivals might find difficult to overcome.

VMware recently revealed that half of its enterprise license agreements now include vCloud Suite, the company’s cloud management software, which internal IT organizations primarily use to build private clouds. VMware also says that license bookings for the vCloud Suite more than doubled in 2013. While VMware concedes that those licenses are only about 10 percent of its customer base, the company is clearly gaining a lot of momentum in the private cloud computing space, which is expected to be a $50 billion market by 2016.

“vCloud Suite is the fastest growing product in the VMware,” says Raghu Raghurham, executive vice president for cloud infrastructure and management at VMware.

Obviously, VMware is hardly the sole vendor with an eye on that market. Microsoft has gained a fair amount of virtualization ground with Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines that are free with various flavors of Microsoft Server. And a broad alliance of vendors backing OpenStack are making a case for a lower cost framework for managing clouds that promises IT organizations much greater levels interoperability across different instances of cloud computing.

But VMware is trying up the ante. What initially started out as an effort to create the software-defined data center is now a race to define the software-defined enterprise in a way that brings server, network and storage management under one common framework. And VMware is counting on the loyalty of its customers to put a significant amount of distance between it and the competition.

One such customer is Columbia Sportswear. The sports clothing company runs 600 physical servers, which are running about 5,000 VMware virtual machines. Mike Leeper, Columbia Sportswear’s director of global technology, says the company evaluated multiple management frameworks for managing an IT environment that spans 45 different locations, but ultimately opted for the framework provided by VMware to replace its legacy IT management tools.

“Our legacy toolsets did not address a virtualized, highly dynamic IT world,” says Leeper.

Similarly, Shadrach Kisten, vice president of information technology for Sesame Street, says his organization evaluated not only multiple toolsets, but also other virtual machine platforms. After that review, Kisten says it was clear from a management perspective that VMware provides a substantially better management experience, particularly when integrating VMware with servers from Cisco and storage systems from VMware.

“To make this work, you need a robust platform that is proven, can be replicated, and is highly automated,” says Kisten.

Whether VMware can sustain its lead over the long haul remains to be seen. By the time rival architectures catch up, however, VMware might be fairly well ahead in defining the next generation of enterprise IT.

About the Author

Michael Vizard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, ” ‘Dilbert’ Creator: Focus on Systems, Not Goals,” click here.

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