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How VMware wants to be the OS for the cloud

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VMware (s vmw) on Tuesday morning launched the latest version of its vSphere virtualization management software, as well as a suite of integrated products for managing cloud computing environments. There isn’t much new aside from the capabilities in vSphere 5, but VMware’s timing was ideal to take some of the wind out of rival Citrix’s (s ctxs) sails after it announced the acquisition of this morning.

VMware CEO Paul Maritz took the stage at a press conference/web conference this morning to lay out the case for why vSphere 5 and the new Cloud Infrastructure Suite are needed. His pitch was similar to what he told Om at Structure 2011, which is that we’re moving beyond the PC era, which means new applications, new platforms and entirely new ways that employees will interact with IT. For that to happen, infrastructure management just “needs to disappear.”

Essentially, Maritz explained, harkening back to his Microsoft (s msft) roots, the new cloud suite is like Office for building automated data centers. It’s composed of a collection of previously disparate VMware products now designed to be easily deployed atop vSphere environments. By that logic, vSphere would be the Windows operating system. Gary Orenstein nailed the VMware-Microsoft analogy in greater detail in a May post.

Maritz also made a strong case for deploying VMware-based applications in the public cloud, broadening the compnay from it’s private cloud roots. Maritz claimed that more than 2,000 service providers currently utilize vCloud to some degree in operating their cloud computing offerings.

VMware CTO Steve Herrod also took the stage to discuss the slew of new features within the various components of the suite designed to make vSphere more dynamic and reliable when operating across larger, geographically dispersed server pools similar to the public clouds that VMware and its private-cloud brethren seek to emulate. Among the highlights are highly powerful VMs running within vSphere, a app-store-like console for provisioning VMs, advanced disaster recovery methods, intelligent policy management, dynamic storage migration and advanced securtity capabilities. In all, there are hundreds of new features, which Herrod discusses in more detail on his blog.

VMware also is adjusting the licensing model for vSphere 5, focusing on pooled virtual memory allocations in stead of the number of physical hosts. Although this still presumably caps the amount of resources available, it does allow for cloud-like flexibility of moving resources where they’re needed. Software licensing has always been a sticking point around virtualization and cloud computing because vendors want those upfront fees, but users want the flexibility of adding new servers without necessarily adding more costs. Unless VMware were to go full pay-per-use and abandon license fees altogether, this might be among the happiest balances it could find.

This was not the groundbreaking event that VMware promised it would be, but the launch should please VMware customers looking for a higher-performance, more automated and generally cloudier VMware experience. Following on the heels of the news, however, it looks like VMware will have to keep its foot on the innovation gas pedal to keep from finally feeling the pressure of an open source cloud movement led by XenServer, OpenStack and Red Hat’s (s rht) KVM-based approach.

VMware has invested its future in a spate of application acquisitions and its Cloud Foundry platform as a service, but those are longer-term strategies still in their infancies. Infrastructure is what’s making money now, and although VMware has the lead in revenue and deployments, it doesn’t have all the momentum.

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