It’s not a secret that Google is not crazy about hardware virtualization. They made it clear in June 2007, when the engineer André Barroso said:
“I think it will be very sad if we need to use virtualization,” he said. “It is hard to claim we will never use it, but we don’t really use it today.”…
Having Google to endorse your technology is a big thing but so far virtualization vendors survived even without the search engine support.
But at the end of 2008 VMware decided to enter a domain where Google is a recognized leader, cloud computing, and this was enough to trigger a still very polite contrast between the two companies.
At VMworld Europe 2009, the VMware CEO Paul Maritz addressed the Google approach to cloud computing saying that virtualization is the only viable way.
Specifically he said:
they don’t realize that they scale so well only by redesigning their applications and hardware
Google answered yesterday, after the worldwide press continues to obsessively covering the cloud computing topic as the new hype of the year (you know, green computing is surpassed now).
The search engine company published yesterday what seems to be a clear answer to the VMware claims:
We serve tens of millions of users, so we’ve had to build infrastructure that scales and can run extremely efficiently to support that load. Consider three areas of data center design: server design, energy efficiency, and scale of operations.
In the virtualization approach of private data centers, a company takes a server and subdivides it into many servers to increase efficiency. We do the opposite by taking a large set of low cost commodity systems and tying them together into one large supercomputer. We strip down our servers to the bare essentials, so that we’re not paying for components that we don’t need. For example, we produce servers without video graphics chips that aren’t needed in this environment.
Additionally, enterprise hardware components are designed to be very reliable, but they can never be 100% reliable, so enterprises spend a lot of time and money on maintenance. In contrast, we expect the hardware to fail, and design for reliability in the software such that, when the hardware does fail, customers are just shifted to another server. This allows us to further lower the cost of our servers by using commodity parts and on-board storage. We also design the systems for easy repair such that, if a part fails, we can quickly bring the server back into service.
Traditionally, companies have focused on using large, highly reliable hardware to run databases and large backend systems, but there is a significant cost impact to that strategy. For example, a 4 CPU quad-core system with 600 GB of high end SCSI storage and 16GB of memory is 8 times more expensive than a system 1/4 its size with less expensive SATA storage. This is because the price of the components increase exponentially as the hardware gets larger and more reliable. By building the reliability into the software, we’re able to use a much lower cost hardware platform but still maintain the same reliability to customers.
While the cost advantages of cloud computing can be great, there’s another advantage that in many ways is more important: the rapid pace of innovation. IT systems are typically slow to evolve. In the virtualization model, businesses still need to run packaged software and endure the associated burden. They only receive major feature enhancements every 2-3 years, and in the meantime they have to endure the monthly patch cycle and painful system-wide upgrades. In our model, we can deliver innovation quickly without IT admins needing to manage upgrades themselves. For example, with Google Apps, we delivered more than 60 new features over the last year with only optional admin intervention.
The era of delayed gratification is over – the Internet allows innovations to be delivered as a constant flow that incorporates user needs, offers faster cycles for IT, and enables integration with systems that were not previously possible. This makes major upgrades a thing of the past, and gives the customer greater and greater value for their money.
As companies weigh private data centers vs. scalable clouds, they should ask a simple question: can I find the same economics, ease of maintenance, and pace of innovation that is inherent in the cloud?
VMware may want to answer this.