VMware reckons 20% of server cores can come back to work thanks to vSphere 8 and SmartNICs

Re-composes automation and management tools as ‘Aria’, reduces cloud hardware requirements, tries to reinvent security ... again

VMware Explore VMware has delivered on its promise to brings its flagship vSphere compute virtualization suite to SmartNICs that embed a small computer on a network interface controller and run network-centric workloads there to free servers’ CPUs from scutwork.

At the VMware Explore conference in San Francisco this week, VMware will detail how vSphere 8 will include a cut for SmartNICs, and therefore also for the Arm CPU architecture, because two of the SmartNIC providers VMware is working with – Nvidia and Pensando – use the Brit-based company's design cores in their hardware. Intel is VMware's third SmartNIC partner.

VMware has not, however, offered any update on the planned port of the ESXi hypervisor to the Arm architecture which is currently offered as an unsupported experiment. The virtualization giant did, however, formally state that its edge stack – which was updated to version 2.0 at the conference – will be ported to platforms other than x86.

Also on the edge, VMware is previewing private mobile networks as a service, an interesting offering as applications can run on the required infrastructure. Users and workloads can therefore enjoy close physical proximity on campuses and sites such as factories. Those workloads could run VMs or containers, and of course be managed by a vAdmin located anywhere with appropriate connectivity.

vSphere 8 also adds a cloud consumption interface service – a single API that lets vAdmins manage compute, network, and storage across any combination of private and public clouds. vSAN has also hit version 8 and added an "Express Storage Architecture" that VMware said markedly improves storage efficiency and reduces CPU loads.

Speaking of CPUs taking a holiday, VMware has claimed that putting SmartNICs to work with vSphere 8 can mean up to 20 percent of CPU cores can be released to run applications. The company is also claiming that SmartNICs will simplify networks and computing estates while improving security.

VMware's argument is that these days services like firewalls and load balancers are technology silos of discrete physical appliances that live in a network's DMZ and therefore allow malicious traffic plenty of room to travel.

SmartNICs mean every server-to-server link can enjoy dedicated security tooling. VMware will therefore push the SmartNIC as offering better security and a chance to rethink network architectures. And because all those firewalls and load balances will run as VMs, VMware will suggest that vAdmins can become one-stop-shops for compute, networking, and security requests – freeing organizations from having to ask networking or security teams to make a change.

In a similar vein, the company announced "Project Trinidad", an API security and analytics offering that detects anomalous behavior in east-west traffic between microservices. "Project Watch" does similar things for app-to-app comms across clouds, and "Project Northstar" allows the NSX network virtualization suite that create and manage virtual networks to span multiple clouds.

These efforts add up to an attempt to make it possible for organisations to apply a single networking and security model to all the clouds they use. If VMware can pull this off, it will mean that the inevitable advent of multi-cloud computing – as a result of deliberate choice to use different clouds' best bits, or caused by business units signing up for cloud services without full IT department supervision or knowledge - can be tamed in ways that make silos less likely. VMware will also advocate for its wares as making multicloud possible with known and approved patterns, rather than constant reinvention of security, identity, and networking.

Sing a song of observability

One of the event's more substantial announcements – in terms of changes to VMware's portfolio – is "Aria", a SaaSy-observability management and automation tool that will eventually replace current products Cloud Health, vRealize, and Tanzu Observability.

Users of those products will be granted equivalent Aria licences to those they currently hold.

Aria can recommend optimal cloud rigs for applications, in terms of both the required infrastructure and costs, then design and manage migrations. The tool can do similar things for security regimes. The suite also offers observability tools that can detect just where a multi-cloud app has hit trouble.

We'll try to figure out how much of this is new and how much is marketechture as VMware Explore continues.

Honey, I shrunk the SDDC

One of the barriers to adoption of VMware in hyperscale clouds has been cost: VMware’s various cloud partners essentially sell dedicated hosts to run VMware software, an arrangement that means some of the benefits of IaaS are harder to realize.

Two initiatives address that issue.

One is called "Cloud flex compute" and allows users to put pools of CPU and memory to work in the cloud to run VMware's compute virtualization products. Execs said this will allow users to start with VMware in the cloud at lower costs, then expand the pools and scale.

Oracle cloud, meanwhile, will allow customers to run in the cloud on a single host.

Does any of this matter?

VMware Aria looks the most interesting of this year's announcements because Virtzilla's management offerings have generally been adequate rather than strong. Merging them under a new brand, and hopefully integrating them well, could turn a page.

VMware has repeatedly tried to reinvent security and networking, and its efforts have been appreciated by customers but the networking industry largely implemented software-defined networking without being discomfited or disrupted by VMware.

SmartNICs are a field in which VMware is undoubtedly leading and making a tech currently used mostly by hyperscalers more mainstream.

Gartner VP analyst Andrew Lerner told The Register that the SmartNIC is "still in its infancy, with fewer than 500 customers."

He predicted that many "will initially be deployed to support latency-sensitive or bandwidth-intensive workloads, such as AI/ML training and advanced analytics. This will allow I&O teams to become familiar with the operational challenges."

"Examples of disruptive and interesting value that this could provide in the enterprise include Middle-box elimination (such as load balancing and firewall appliances) accelerating throughput- and latency-sensitive applications (NVMe, AI/ML training), Scale-out storage, and removal of leaf in leaf/spine."

Which is almost exactly what VMware says they'll be used for – so perhaps VMware is onto something here and has a better shot at shaking up security.

But Lerner has a dimmer view of VMware's container-centric Tanzu portfolio.

"We are seeing some interest, but it is very early and limited," Lerner said. "And of course, the 800 lb gorilla in the room right now is Broadcom. We see customers hesitating to make big investments in newer technologies given the interim uncertainty."

Broadcom did not rate a single mention in pre-event briefings offered to The Register, despite it and VMware last week issuing filings that advance the takeover transaction. ®

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