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New CTO offers guidance on VMware software-defined data center

VMware's newest CTO discusses the right starting point for the software-defined data center, and the company's software integration strategy.

VMware's software-defined data center ambitions are no secret, but there is still a lot to learn, and customers should take baby steps to get started.

That's the message from Chris Wolf, formerly an analyst with Gartner Inc., now VMware Inc.'s chief technology officer for the Americas. SearchDataCenter caught up with him recently to discuss the biggest issues IT shops have with the virtualization giant, and how VMware's software-defined data center (SDDC) will come together, both within the company and at customer sites.

As you've gone out and talked to customers, what is their biggest pain point with VMware?

Chris WolfChris Wolf

Chris Wolf: We have a lot of clients that have bought in to the [software-defined data center] vision. They see the value in defining all of their infrastructure assets as software, and it's something that they're definitely striving for. They see it as a key building block for hybrid cloud. But the next part that they want from us is more specific guidance.

Realistically, SDDC is so disruptive that you can't just dive right into it. I'm not going to rip out all my network and storage approaches and data center approaches that I've been doing forever and just go the whole SDDC route. So I have to take some baby steps. What VMware customers want to hear from us is, 'What are those steps I need? What should I do first just to get my feet wet, and then what should I do second; what should I do third?'

How do you address those concerns? What do you tell them?

Wolf: I tell them that the best place to begin with SDDC is simply [to] start with [development] and test. I can start bringing [VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN)] into the data center, start saving a lot of money on my storage costs, and [development] and test is a low-risk environment in terms of getting your feet wet; it's a great place to begin. You can do the same with the NSX technology in that type of environment just to start building some institutional knowledge internally, and some processes around these new ways around managing network, storage and compute resources.

Can NSX and VSAN just work out of the box together today?

Wolf: I guess it depends on your definition of 'work.' Can I get VSAN up and running pretty quickly? Sure. Can I deploy NSX? Absolutely. The real value though as the VMware stack evolves is going to be, 'How can I orchestrate across all of these in a turnkey fashion?' VMware does have some workflows that we've already incorporated through our vCAC tool that [are] only going to get better and richer as time moves on. For the amount of automation that the typical early starter needs right now, I'd say we're in good shape. For where the market needs to get to, from an automation perspective, there's definitely more that VMware will do to improve on that and improve on that experience.

Like what?

Wolf: Like having very tight accounting abilities as an example; having an easier experience from a programmatic and integration perspective. These are also things that are important.

More Q&A with Chris Wolf

How does Wolf see VMware VDI competing with Citrix?

What does VMware's hybrid cloud future look like?

There are two classes of customers out there: one is saying, 'You know what, VMware, we want easy, we want simple, and we don't want to spend time trying to act like a cloud provider … so give us as much turnkey as possible so that I'm just delivering VMs [virtual machines], apps and services to my constituents, and I'm not even having to worry about the details.' That's a really important customer set and I think that's the majority of organizations out there.

Then you have the very large, complex global enterprise that always tries to derive a lot of value through customization, and those folks want a lot of flexibility. To keep them happy, it means exposing full access to our stack via our APIs [application programming interfaces] and integrating and having a good OpenStack story, which is also something that's strategically important to VMware.

How does VMware balance its ambitions in the software-defined data center with the interests of its partners? There have been reports, for example, that Nutanix and Veeam pulled out of PEX because VMware asked them to keep a low profile, and some customers are concerned about the potential conflicts with partners. Is there any message from VMware on that front?

Wolf: PEX is an open event. Anybody can register and attend PEX. We don't discriminate against PEX attendance. That's the same for Nutanix and others. And there are some folks who work for Nutanix that were at PEX. But at the same time, VMware partners know the way the world is turning. And that is a more software-defined world.

The enterprise data center isn't even close to adopting that type of model. But all major hardware vendors are making major software investments, too. And, at the end of the day, there's room for everyone here.

VMware wants to provide a core set of capabilities for both server-based applications and data, as well as end-user computing, and that core set of capabilities needs to be tightly integrated and highly automated, because it allows for much greater business agility in that type of delivery model. And then, on top of that, there are a lot of areas -- whether it be services for particular industry verticals, or specific performance or SLA requirements, or specific security requirements -- there's lots of areas where the VMware partners will be able to continue to integrate with that stack.

And there are also times where an organization might have so much volume of data that they're going to continue to prefer physical storage devices, or they're going to prefer some physical network devices as well ... even the hardware vendors agree that the world is moving toward a more software-defined world.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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