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VMware starts customer testing for vSphere on network accelerators

Looks to be still figuring out what to do with it, rather than prepping product

VMware has offered its customers the chance to use its flagship ESXi hypervisor running on SmartNICs.

The virtualization giant yesterday announced an "Early Access Program" for Project Monterey – the effort to run ESXi on network accelerators and treat the devices as just another host that can run virtual machines and be managed by vSphere and vCenter.

Plenty of network accelerators – a term The Register uses here because the industry is split on whether to call them SmartNICs, data-processing units or infrastructure processing units – run CPUs that use the Arm architecture. Project Monterey is therefore important to VMware, both in the context of its desire to become a player in 5G infrastructure and in its wish to have accelerators improve performance of more conventional data centres – just as they've done for hyperscalers. VMware also hopes to ensure vSphere remains relevant as Arm platforms become more prevalent for enterprise workloads.

The name "Early Access Program" appears to be apt, as VMware's announcement indicates that participants will "collaborate with VMware to test and validate their use cases in a VMware lab environment to solve real customer pain points" and that the program will offer "the opportunity to help shape cutting edge data centre technologies that will form the foundation for next generation of applications and workloads".

That sounds a lot more like tyre-kicking than finalising a product, even if the name of the program suggests it offers access to something real.

VMware has teased a little more about the state of Project Monterey in the content catalogue for its VMworld 2021 gabfest, which lists a session titled "10 Things You Need to Know About Project Monterey". The session description promises attendees at the virtual talk will learn how the project "will redefine the data centre with decoupled control and data planes for management, networking, storage and security—for VMware ESXi hosts and for bare-metal systems". Another VMworld session claims Monterey will deliver "increased performance, security, and data centre manageability for our customers".

VMware is also running a less-focussed effort to run ESXi on Arm processors in settings beyond network accelerators. That effort recently extended support for Ampere CPUs and improved stability of the hypervisor when running on a Raspberry Pi 4. ®

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