VMware sees no need to Arm itself for multi-architecture multi-cloud

x86 still gets you to where the useful action is, even on the edge

Explore For years, VMware's strategy has been to run any app in any environment.

But even as hyperscalers bet on Arm-powered servers, and device makers wrestle Arm CPUs into myriad machines that run everywhere, the virtualization giant doesn't see the need to bring its stack to the architecture.

That's despite VMware having revealed, back in 2018, a version of its flagship ESXi hypervisor for Arm CPUs.

That effort eventually turned into the vSphere Distributed Services Engine – an addition to vSphere 8 that offloads workloads like smoothing storage I/O and firewalls into data processing units (DPUs, aka SmartNICs), which mostly use Arm CPUs.

To run those workloads into DPUs, the Distributed Services Engine needs to run them inside VMs. VMware's hypervisor was therefore ported to Arm for this purpose.

But despite offering an unsupported experimental version of its hypervisor that can run on many Arm-powered devices – even some of the manycore Ampere processors adopted by hyperscale clouds – VMware hasn't found a reason to take the port to other devices for production purposes.

"As we look forward we are continuing to evaluate supporting the mainboard processor," VMware CTO Kit Colbert explained at IT giant's Explore conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday. But Virtzilla is yet to find what he called a "bootstrap opportunity" that shows investment in its stack for Arm would be worthwhile.

CEO Raghu Raghuram did say VMware is considering taking its virtual storage and networking tech to Arm.

"We are looking at what is needed to make that successful," he said. "Rather than doing it all at once, we need to pick."

Arm CPUs are often present in smaller and less powerful devices – the kind often built into edge kit.

But even there, VMware doesn't yet see a need it seems.

Sanjay Uppal, senior veep for software-defined WAN and Edge, used the show to announce an Edge Orchestrator that can manage thousands of devices in diverse locations. In conversation with The Register he said that while Arm processors are present in many edge locations, x86-powered devices remain the most important infrastructure that needs to be managed.

VMware has no aspiration to have its code run in individual sensors or industrial robots. But controlling the x86 machines that manage Arm devices is what customers want and need.

All of which leaves the idea of multi-architecture datacenters off VMware's immediate agenda. That in turn means the prospect of hybrid multi-architecture multi-cloud is also dim. Perhaps it also means VMware-committed enterprises will be leerier of Arm-powered on-prem servers.

Which isn't to say VMware has ruled out extending itself to Arm, or RISC-V, in the future. But for now it just doesn't see a need, or a business case, to make the move. ®

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