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VMworld 2017: Data center infrastructure modernization theme on tap

At VMworld 2017, three key themes have taken the forefront: network virtualization, hybrid cloud computing and containers. All support the vision of data center infrastructure modernization.

While there has been much talk about whether data centers are dead, most experts say that they are alive –but also morphing.

The trend is clearly one in which IT departments are shifting from managing their own data centers to having a cloud or service provider manage resources for them. At the same time, the reality for most IT departments is a hybrid universe, in which some data center infrastructure resides on-premises and some is provisioned from a cloud provider. IT departments opt for this hybrid infrastructure to move faster and stay on pace with the speed of their customers-- without losing  control of assets on-premises for security, compliance or operational reasons.

This hybrid cloud universe is, in essence, one of the key themes of VMworld 2017, which takes place Aug. 27-31 in Las Vegas. According to experts, three key themes seem to be emerging as highlights for the show: the growing importance of hybrid cloud scenarios, network virtualization as a key enabler for data center infrastructure modernization, and containers. These themes can enable a more modern data center infrastructure to accommodate new business needs. Enterprises need modern infrastructure as they connect Internet of Things- devices, develop analytics-driven business models, and accommodate the massive influx of users and data.

These three themes, said David Davis, a VMware vExpert and partner at ActualTechMedia.com, drive at the key challenge that IT departments are facing: how to modernize data center infrastructure and make it relevant to current business needs.

Davis predicted that these three themes will be prominent at the show, which will target pain points in the data center modernization challenges that network engineers, architects and IT departments face How will IT departments bridge the gap between their private cloud and a public cloud like Amazon or Google? How can IT departments ensure that applications “just work” despite an influx of users, devices and data volume? How can they extend virtualization in their private clouds and exploit new technologies like the Internet of Things, and how can they do so securely? Cisco.com sat down with Davis to discus the major themes to expect at VMworld 2017.

What are some of the big themes we can expect at VMworld 2017? Is VMware’s October 2016 partnership with Amazon Web Services one of them, and why? Does this indicate a trend?

First, many attendees are interested in how to extend the value of their virtualization investments –whether in storage, servers or networking. Many attendees want to understand how to bridge the gap between private and public clouds and be able to migrate data back and forth in this hybrid cloud setup. Extending the value of virtualization investments in a hybrid cloud, and VMware’s recent partnership with Amazon Web Services, will be a clear theme.

What about containers? Is this approach to virtualization important?

Another key theme at VMworld is the role of containers and how they will work with virtualized infrastructure. Container platforms like Docker enable even greater efficiency and reduced overhead in running enterprise applications aren’t as mature as virtual machines [VMs, or virtual servers]. Many IT pros are excited about the benefits of containers but are just getting started in understanding their pros and cons. Containers also still need to mature before they are a replacement for VMs.

How are containers forwarding the hybrid cloud scenario?

People are interested in moving to public cloud, but it’s a whole new way of doing things. There is a whole new set of concerns. You can keep doing all the things you’ve done. Vendors are trying to provide the best of both worlds: security, compliance, availability, orchestration—all these things. However, new applications that are “cloud native” can easily be run in a public cloud or on-premises on a container platform.

Are containers enterprise-ready?

For most companies, containers don’t have all the enterprise features that they need today. In terms of all the traditional, legacy apps we are accustomed to running in data centers, containers don’t have the persistent storage, management, and other features required. And a lot of traditional enterprise apps aren’t certified or supported to run on containers. But that’s changing.

Admins also need to get more familiar with the enterprise-grade features that are available to them but work differently from what they are used to in a virtualization scenario. Most virtualization admins are still at the point of trying to figure out how containers will work alongside or inside their virtual infrastructure.

What about network virtualization and software-defined networking? Are these important themes at the show?

Software-defined networking will be a big theme at the show. It’s potentially a whole new wave of virtualization, eliminating a lot of network infrastructure. It’s not necessarily a money-saving venture, but it saves in efficiency of data center operations, improves business agility, and strengthens infrastructure security.

Traditionally network virtualization was considered difficult and complex technically. Has network virtualization arrived, and if so why?

Yeah, I would say it’s finally arrived. The products have matured. The hardware is so fast these days, there is capacity to run all the things we have ever dreamed of, and the software has caught up.

The same argument that applies to software-defined storage also applies to software-defined networking. For example, with hyperconvergence (which uses software defined storage), instead of having a dedicated SAN [storage area network] you can provide all the same performance and advanced functionality using software inside your existing commodity servers.

By the same token, with software-defined networking, I can add a firewall on top of every web server in my data center as I roll them out; it’s just part of the package. In the past, you would buy a $100,000 firewall to put in a data center and then have 1,000 or more rules on that firewall (let’s say one for every web server). Instead, you can do all of this, virtually, in software on your existing commodity hardware.

Think about it: Data centers have has always been considered to have a “hard outer shell and soft gooey center” when it comes to security (with that single, expensive firewall being the outer shell). With software-defined networking, an entire data center can be hardened throughout using software-defined networking and network functions virtualization [NFV].

Have vendors’ perception changed in terms of making their offerings interoperable? How have things changed?

Vendor offerings are more open these days, with vendors trying to standardize on certain APIs [application programming interfaces] where their solution can be programmatically controlled and work with others. You see lots of solutions that are already integrated. Many vendors are accepting that the data center won’t be a single-vendor solution.

What kinds of VMworld networking events do you recommend?

Check out the VMworld gatherings web page. Attending those get-togethers is one of the best ways to meet people at VMworld. Check out some VMware hands-on labs. Attend some of the vBrownBag Tech Talks and ask questions. Follow the #VMworld Twitter stream to learn the latest news and talk to fellow attendees. Come prepared to network and meet people!

Will the new technologies at VMworld help pave the way for the future?

One of the VMworld 2017 slogans is “Building Tomorrow”: That’s what it’s about, in my opinion. No, infrastructure isn’t dead, but we need to modernize computing for all companies, and that’s no easy task. There is a tremendous amount of inefficiency at every company in its infrastructure. So many companies are virtualizing servers, then moving on to automation and leveraging cloud, containers. There are so many opportunities for efficiency VMworld is about making technology more efficient at every company.

There’s a lot of talk about that efficiency and modernization of the data center undercutting jobs. Is that an outgrowth of data center modernization? Or do people move to more strategic work?

People get shifted to do new innovative things as a result. But elevate yourself to be an infrastructure engineer (or whatever higher-level title you want to use). Instead of being the server, SAN or network admin, elevate yourself. Any way you can start doing that for the company means you’re making a difference. Get out of the administration business and get into the strategic business.

David Davis, VMware vExpert and partner at ActualTechMedia.com

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Lauren Horwitz

Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”