VMware recently pulled back the curtain on its research and development efforts, and for the first time, it allowed outsiders to attend its annual RADIO (stands for research and development innovation offsite) conference in San Francisco. The event provided a candid look at the company’s culture and a glimpse of what lies ahead for the virtualization giant. Here are a handful of my RADIO takeaways and what you should know about VMware — past, present, and future.
1. The early magic happened in the crack house.
VMware’s “campus in a forest” headquarters in Palo Alto, California has come a long way since its humble beginnings: a free room in co-founder and former CTO Edouard Bugnion’s house with two computers set on folding tables. A month later the company moved to a small office above a cheese shop and then to the crack house.
“If you looked at it from the outside, it looked like a crack house,” said co-founder and engineer Scott Devine, on a VMware alumni panel at RADIO discussing the company culture. “The inside wasn’t much better.”
Water pooled on the roof every time it rained. Once, while interviewing a prospective employee, Bugnion didn’t have time to bail water off the roof. “Twenty minutes into the interview, the whole ceiling came down,” Devine remembered. “We didn’t hire that person, either.”
Still, the Scooby Gang managed to solve some really tough engineering challenges in those early days, like how to essentially build a computer in software. “To me, the crack house is where it all began,” Devine said.
2. Software-defined storage will get cloudier.
VMmare pioneered software-defined storage with vSAN, and it used this technology to build its market-leading hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) software. As with other SD-storage companies and products, VMware is working to build additional data management capabilities into its technology.
“What are the things we can do in our platform to make vSAN and vSphere very appealing to big data and other cloud-native applications” such as MongoDB and Hadoop? asked Yanbing Li, SVP of VMware’s storage and availability unit. “We see this as very relevant to the problems customers are looking at today. How do we inject better data analytics and governance? And how do we have access to the data? And how do storage and cloud come together?”
VMware’s partnership with Amazon Web Services will help solve the latter. VMware Cloud on AWS already includes VMware’s vSAN storage technology, and customers can access public API endpoints for AWS services including Amazon S3 storage. A future release of the hybrid cloud service will support Amazon Elastic Block Storage (EBS). And the companies are working on tighter integrations between the cloud and on-premises storage technologies.
“We’re building a lot of these solutions so it’s not just, ‘hey we use S3 or EBS as a tier,’ but truly linking, natively linking them into our product,” Li said. As with most of the product innovations discussed at RADIO, execs wouldn’t give a timeframe for this. But keep your eyes and ears peeled for an announcement of this sort in an upcoming quarterly VMware Cloud on AWS release.
3. Serverless is the next frontier.
As VMware EVP and CTO Ray O’Farrell said during a conversation with reporters, “functions-as-a-service (FaaS) are the next level of virtualization, even beyond containers.”
Last year at VMworld, the company debuted a FaaS demo using Apache OpenWhisk, an open source FaaS technology. Engineers soon after started working on a serverless framework built on VMware infrastructure. And in January they released a new open source project called Dispatch on GitHub. It’s built on Kubernetes and provides tools to deploy and manage production-ready, function-backed serverless applications.
“It’s really about integrating with different serverless technologies, such as integration with AWS Greengrass that can run outside the AWS environment on vSphere,” said Kit Colbert, CTO of VMware’s cloud platform business unit, referring to AWS’ software that extends the cloud provider’s capabilities to local devices, including IoT devices.
Oh, and you can likely expect a commercial version of Dispatch in the near future.
4. IoT security keeps O’Farrell awake at night.
“There are going to be security challenges when it comes to IoT and edge compute,” O’Farrell said during his RADIO keynote.
The topic came up again later in the day. “I’m particularly interested in the world of IoT and what’s going to happen at the edge because it presents a unique security problem,” he said. “Quite often, security is a risk-reward balance, but here the risk is something different. My kids’ diabetes center got compromised is much different that my Home Depot account got compromised.”
Effective IoT security work requires sensors at the edge, analytics in the cloud, and software measuring everything from traffic systems to the weather. “You need two independent stacks, but to be really powerful you have to bring data from both of them, so the security has to be capable of dealing with data moving across both,” O’Farrell said. “This confluence of edge and IoT moving from the edge back into the cloud is going to be a whole new area.”
In February, VMware announced edge computing products as part of its IoT strategy. From the sound of it, I expect a strong security angle to VMware’s IoT story coming soon.
5. VMware’s serious about sustainability innovation.
It’s not uncommon for a global company to have a security chief. It is uncommon, however, for the CTO to drive a company’s sustainability efforts. VMware’s VP of Sustainability Strategy Nicola Acutt reports directly to O’Farrell. “I don’t know any of my peers to report into the core technology organization,” Acutt said. “That’s really unique, and it speaks to VMware’s culture, our spirit of innovation, and how we do things differently.”
Two years ago the company set a series of 2020 goals targeting products, planet, and people. For example, it committed to using 100 percent renewable energy globally by 2020 — U.S. and Europe, Middle East, and Africa operations are already at 100 percent.
“We also decided if we are serious about sustainability, yes it’s good to have a great campus and carbon neutrality — our operations and real estate are important — but what we do from an innovation perspective around sustainability can really help move the dial,” Acutt said. So it worked with IDC to quantify the impact of its virtualization technology.
As of 2016, VMware customers had avoided 415 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere. This only includes compute, but Acutt said the company is working with IDC to develop a model that also takes virtualized storage and networking into account. “Ultimately, I want to build in end-user computing into this model,” she said.
Another solution under development will use NSX networking data and telemetry to show customers their real-time carbon footprint. “I’m trying to infuse this mindset of sustainability into the R&D organization,” Acutt said.