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Five takeaways from VMworld

VMworld was an energy-filled show with a huge amount going on, but these five points are what stayed with me.

VMworld, which took place last week in San Francisco, was hopping.

In fact, the number of attendees appeared to overwhelm many of the conference's educational labs in the early going. And the many vendors I spoke with at the event were happy about their booth traffic and the show in general. Now that I've had a bit of time to digest and distill three days of whirlwind activity, five points stick with me:

1. We're seeing virtualization--as technology, products, and solution sets--start to mature in many respects. Or at least the current phase of it. Fellow analyst Judith Hurwitz described how she "was left with the feeling that we are in between generations of technology at this year's VMworld."

For me, this conclusion comes out of the observation that there was relatively little on display related specifically to server virtualization that was fundamentally new and different. That's not to suggest a lack of vendor activity. Anything but. However, the activity largely took the form of new iterations and building out on existing templates.

2. Legitimate cloud computing was much in evidence. But, my, the cloud washing was fierce. Many, many companies offering management and other products relating to virtualized infrastructure were eager to present themselves as playing in the nebulously defined "private cloud" space.

VMware itself was as guilty as anyone. With the latest version of its virtual infrastructure product, now dubbed vSphere, already launched back in April, VMware's focus at the show tilted heavily toward cloud computing.

While there were a few specifics, such as vCloud Express, much of this took the form of forward-looking generalities. For example, VMware gave a lot of airtime to the notion of hybrid clouds that bridge private and public networks even though this is largely an architectural theory at this point.

3. So was anything both new and real? Yes. A couple things. One was I/O virtualization, which can be thought of conceptually as separating computing from I/O (network and storage connections mostly) and allowing that I/O to be shared and dynamically allocated. It's not really a new concept. Like many things, it has its roots in the mainframe and has, more recently, found a home in blade designs from the likes of Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM.

However, the current crop of products are intended to work with standard rackmount or blade servers. Xsigo uses InfiniBand-based technology. Virtensys, Aprius, and NextIO essentially just bring PCI Express out of the server. This is a relatively young technology area but one worth watching.

4. Client-side virtualization was also a hot area even with Citrix and Microsoft--in many respects the top dogs in this space--in semi-exile from the show.

It's an exciting and evolving landscape with many new approaches and products. This includes work on protocols to improve the user experience over network connections of different types; Wyse, once exclusively a thin client purveyor, is now heavily focused here. We're also seeing a general trend toward making more effective use of the processor and graphics resources on the client rather than making the server and network do all the work; Wanova is a start-up that made an announcement shortly before the show in this area.

5. My last takeaway is a sort of meta point. The way that we do computing is changing in rather significant ways and virtualization--together with its related but distinct cousin, cloud computing--is at the focus of that change.

This is fundamentally a change in how we operate computer systems rather than, say, how we write software for them. However, because it ultimately affects how applications get delivered and computing is accessed, it has far broader implications than for just data center operators.