Virtualization at SoftSummit: Sexy, not Even!

SoftSummit 2006 (a conference led by Macrovision) happened a couple of weeks ago. I was there as a speaker so got a chance to meet some good people. Much of what was discussed was the same old, but one session stood out.
One topic over lunch on Wednesday was this: “Virtualization Takes Over the Enterprise.” Raghu Raghurum, VP of platforms at VMWare and Chad Jones, Sr. Product manager at Microsoft were the two content leaders.

This is such a sexy topic. Not. But for those in technology, it is an interesting yet sometimes overused term. Virtualization started in data storage with companies like Brocade leading a technique for hiding the location where computing existed. You could house storage in India and get cheaper resources worldwide. Now, virtualization can be done so systems, applications, and the OS can all be run in such a way that you don’t need to have a bunch of desktop units. Using a central device (think old school mainframe), the desktop acts much more like a dumb client. Fundamentally, it allows applications, OS, and other things to be available to all, without having to be on each unit. Instead of needing a copy of Microsoft Office for each computer, you could potentially run it or similar applications once. Can you see where this is going?
Okay, I said it was not sexy. But it is still appealing. Virtualization should reduce overhead. For IT resources, it promises to simplify life. By decoupling apps, OS, and hardware through virtualization, you can start to get platform agnostic. Instead of having to develop for multiple platforms, you can enable an SOA solution, package the app once, and efficiently deploy to entire enterprises at once. That’s the developer point of view. IT and corporate data managers only have to maintain one copy rather than 3,000 or 100,000 units of software.
Virtualization will surely change the existing software licensing model. Many vendors (say, IBM or Oracle) tie their license pricing model to things like the number of CPUs. In other words they are asking customers to pay for the resources consumed. This, if it’s not already, is quickly becoming antiquated. Software vendors can’t know if their app is going to be used in a virtual world. So they won’t be able to use that old metric. Customers will be challenged to figure out how to do a license deal with those vendors, thus creating an obstacle to sale.
But the real point going forward is that the value metric for how software pricing will be done will depend on the value of the software — and what it is really doing for customers.
So you go, virtualization. Bring it on. The faster this happens, the better. VMWare is one of the few companies that can enable this. Virtualization will only cause better price performance value for customers. Tech firms better figure out a new pricing model — fast — for their software, and customers ought to encourage the data center and desktop application provides to enable virtualization.

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