Commentary on vSphere4: call a spade a spade, and a cloud… virtualization

April 23rd, 2009 | by Chan Chi-Loong

The tech industry is full of jargon junkies. We invent acronyms, come up with complex-sounding terms that are little more than airbrushed revamps of existing concepts. Scarcely had the latest “in” buzzword exited the scene gracefully, we then rush to foist the industry with yet another acronym that essentially means the same thing.

Utility computing? Nope, not in vogue any more. On demand software? Not as sexy as the acronym SaaS (service as a software), retired. The current iteration and poster child is cloud computing, in which all your IT problems are automagically solved by pulling “stuff” out of the cloud.

Major rant: if I hear one more “out of the cloud” reference tossed about casually I’m going to flip. If you mean services over the internet, please say so lah!

Now, cloud computing is an ok and even useful term, if you strictly define what it means. To this cantankerous curmudgeon, as I understand it, it is:

  • an external platform of some sort, often hosted by a third party provider
  • provides some sort of software as a service (SaaS) over the Internet
  • purchase of said SaaS is likely by usage or subscription rather than in a licensing model

The problem is, popular jargon tends to be abused out of all context, which neuters the value of coining the buzzword in the first place.

Take for example VMWare, who invited me for their launch of their VSphere4 yesterday.

Now VSphere4 was touted as the “OS for a cloud computing platform”, and I was hugely excited, having envisioned VMWare doing something radical like rolling out or helping to provision a cloud computing platform ala Amazon’s Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2).

Turns out I was wrong about my assumptions. VSphere4 turned out to be an upgrade of VMWare Infrastructure 3, their virtualization suite of products.

To this cranky blogger/reporter, touting VSphere4 as the “new OS for internal clouds” is a little misleading and not a useful definition. Internal clouds? Huh? Clouds typically describe the fuzzy Internet, and to me “internal clouds” is not a useful definition that adds to the conversation. At all.

Tell me outright VSphere4 is a significant upgrade. There’s network switching at the software level, high availability functions built directly into the virtualization layer and I grok you immediately.

Call virtualization… virtualization. I would suggest not conflating it with clouds, because it’s a bit different from the business you’re in. To be fair to VMWare, it’s not only them and the industry is full of folks talking up buzzwords and mashing together terms like “cloud-based social networks” and “cloud federation”. Sounds cool, but when asked what specifically do you mean by this and how exactly do you do this (esp. with different platforms), it takes more time than if you come out and say it outright in plain, boring English.

Aside: thoughts on VMWare

I like VMWare. I think the business has lots of potential, and in a downturn, they are one company that has a no-brainer proposition — they help companies save on IT costs. Companies consolidate their server and storage footprint (save electricity and rack space), there’s scalability at a lower cost, and the platform has key useful functions like availability (taking out the necessity to buy a HA appliance or redundant server from vendors) and performance management.

Was talking to a few CIOs at the SCS-Digital Life forum recently — the topic was how IT spend was affected during a recession — and all three CIOS on the panel were talking about saving costs via server consolidation through virtualization. As I said, a brainless proposition.

I believe aspects like security and networking will eventually wend their way into the virtualization platforms. It’s not just about servers and storage. Virtualization was invented to help manage IT resources efficiently, and as a concept it’s powerful. It’s an abstraction layer, a more human friendly interface to a pool of machines/resources.

If VMWare plays its cards right, they have big potential.



  1. Chi-Loong says:

    Billy san, you haven’t lost your touch. Yes, Cloud Strife is the man! 🙂

    Thanks! And very true. If VMWare talked more about the significance of their upgrade — OSes and network players beware, we’re coming for you! — it would have been less confusing than conflating it with the cloud. My 2 cents.

  2. victoria ho says:

    Great post, exactly what I felt during the VMWare concall. It’s an upgrade.

  3. Billy Teo says:

    Mr Chan,

    I believe SquareSoft (now Square-Enix) first came up with the concept of Cloud Computing during the Final Fantasy VII era. I do not know what role it is playing today though : )

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