Virtualization Reality

VMware: Watching Microsoft and Citrix Partner Up

By Alan Murphy

In a previous virtualization column I discussed how the popularity of virtualization has a good bit to do with provisioning, orchestration, and management. Once a dynamic infrastructure supporting the virtual platform is in place it becomes much easier to provision and turn up new virtual machines and resources than it does to turn up physical resources because the infrastructure is still made up of physical resources: physical machines with real CPUs and RAM (News - Alert), physical networks with real cabling and ports, and physical appliances that are better suited to running on hardware. However, in the current data center model where virtualization is king, physical resources and virtual resources need to work together as one unit. Despite the explosive growth of virtualization over the past few years, this integrated management and provisioning component has been missing.

It appears that VMware would agree. In February VMware announced it would acquire a software suite from EMC (News - Alert) called Ionix. Ionix is a data center management platform, geared toward managing physical assets in the data center and the core infrastructure, the same physical assets and infrastructure that VMware depends and relies on when provisioning new virtual instances.

VMware isn’t the first major virtualization player to think about integrating virtual and physical asset management. The Ionix move is right in line with what we’ve seen from the other two virtual platform leaders, Microsoft (News - Alert) and Citrix. Microsoft has long been a leader in complete data center management tools with its System Center suite of products: Operations Manager, Configuration Manager, and Virtual Machine Manager. System Center is able to manage all parts of the data center, physical and virtual, from hardware through deployed applications. While Citrix doesn’t quite have the breadth of data center management tools that Microsoft provides, it does offer complete management solutions for all of its own products – including the Xen product family – also running the gamut from physical hardware appliances through applications. In the case of the Xen-based solutions, Citrix management tools also include delivering applications to users over the network and to the desktop. In other words Microsoft can manage the data center infrastructure today, and Citrix can manage the tools and apps that run on that infrastructure.

Over the past year or so, Microsoft and Citrix have made strides in working together in the DC management space, offering co-branded and integrated solutions that support managing each of their technologies through each of their respective management tools. If we focus on how those tools can work together to create an orchestrated virtual data center, then we’re looking squarely at one major competitive force for asset management. With VMware’s Ionix acquisition, now all three major hypervisor vendors can manage physical assets in the data center. In other words, the big players are looking beyond the hypervisor.

I’m guessing that a continued and deeper relationship between Microsoft and Citrix in virtualization is at the forefront of VMware’s competitive strategy. If these two companies continue to build on that relationship, they will provide a very serious competitor to VMware in the enterprise and especially in the cloud. Both Microsoft and Citrix are making a push in the back-end services realm of the cloud: Citrix on the infrastructure-as-a-service provisioning side and Microsoft with the platform-as-a-service development side. IaaS and PaaS go hand-in-hand in the cloud, and the ability to provision them both on one platform would be a huge push for competing against VMware in the hypervisor market, not to mention the management space of provisioning and managing an entire virtual application stack in one location.

With VMware’s Ionix acquisition, now all three major hypervisor vendors can manage physical assets in the data center. In other words, the big players are looking beyond the hypervisor.

Provisioning systems and management are just the beginning. Microsoft and Citrix also could bring to market complete solutions for true application virtualization and streaming – the next step beyond server virtualization. The same tools and applications that run in Hyper-V in the data center also eventually could run on your iPhone (News - Alert) through Citrix’s consumer device support program, Dazzle, and they could all be managed through Microsoft System Center. An enterprise could manage virtual applications on end user iPhones side-by-side with end user desktops, and apply access and availability policies to those users as they move from their iPhones in a taxi, to their laptops on a plane, to their desktops in their office.

That’s not to say that neither Microsoft nor Citrix can compete on its own against VMware in the management space, and VMware is making slow but steady progress throughout the data center. But what starts as an integrated management virtualization solution between Microsoft and Citrix could lead to more of an integrated hypervisor solution down the road. And that could cause some major ripples in VMware’s competitive lead in the enterprise and cloud virtualization market as the existing physical data center becomes an integrated component of the new virtual data center. IT

Alan Murphy is technical marketing manager of management and virtualization solutions with F5 Networks (News - Alert) (