4 trends to watch for at VMworld

In our cloudy times, VMware (s vmw) is a barometer for IT, and the annual VMworld conference is what CES is to the consumer electronics industry. And for the most part the trend is the continued maturation of the cloud, with more options, more ways to manage all those options and VMware continually claiming new aspects of the IT business– from storage to databases. Meanwhile, rivals such as Microsoft, Citrix and those pushing KVM are struggling to keep up. Let’s see what to look out for.

VMware’s attempts to take new ground.

VMware may have started with a hypervisor, but it certainly hasn’t stopped there. As it has added functionality to its products in the form of management software, a new Platform-as-a-Service, an application market of sorts and more, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has proven that it’s staying relevant as the effects of virtualization change IT. This week, Gary Orenstein wrote about how VMware is making inroads into storage with its latest version of vSphere, but it’s also turning toward the database market with its database automation announcement Monday. Keep an eye out for VMware dipping its toes into new IT waters and markets during the event as it seeks to expand its role as the OS for the cloud.

Room for one more?

If VMware is the reigning champ as the OS for the cloud, there are plenty of others vying for that honor, including a new entrant from Joyent. A few weeks back, Joyent announced SmartOS, a new operating system designed for the cloud and the capabilities of today’s hardware that’s designed for virtualization. Calling it the first modern OS may seem a stretch, but VMware has truly become the OS of the cloud and other players such as Microsoft, (s msft) Citrix (s ctx) and even OpenStack (s rax) are hoping to catch up.

That’s why Microsoft posted a mocking video last week and is talking up its cloud offerings Monday. Citrix also announced it could support VMware with its recently acquired CloudStack private cloud software (from Cloud.com). According to Citrix, this benefits customers that don’t want to pay VMware licensing fees on their new virtualization efforts but still will have to manage their old VMware infrastructure even if they are running other hypervisors. And with Dell (s dell) announcing a VMware-based compute cloud with plans for OpenStack and a Microsoft cloud to follow, it appears VMware may not hold onto default status in the enterprise as the set of support and tools around other options grow.

Family plans for the cloud.

Manage multiple clouds with one platform.

Speaking of transitioning from an all-VMware cloud, that’s another key trend. Several management dashboards and vendors are introducing seamless ways to manage applications running on multiple clouds. This isn’t the mythical cloudbursting, where one could switch the apps from one cloud to another if needed, but being able to see what’s happening across multiple IaaS or PaaS deployments is an important step in helping IT adopt cloud computing without fear of vendor lock-in.

Users of different clouds might also be able to take advantage of price differences or hardware optimizations for running different applications, while still managing compliance, cost and other necessary elements of running an enterprise application from one dashboard. It’s like being able to see and manage all your family cell phones on one account as opposed to having to manage them all individually. VMware is also tracking this trend with the release of VMware service provider program (VSPP), which is a set of different vendors offering VMware based clouds that can now be managed as one holistic cloud.

A tale of two platforms.

Platforms are another hot trend, as vendors build products aimed at developers that don’t want to manage infrastructure. The trend in PaaS is to offer multiple languages, like building a Tower of Babel for developers. But the question becomes how will companies want to use their polyglot PaaS. VMware’s Cloud Foundry product allows folks to choose their own Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider that could be on premise or in the cloud from Amazon (s aws) or another provider. So, someone using it selects an IaaS underpinning, then chooses a language and gets to work. VMware has also created partnerships with existing language-specific platforms to support developers.

However, Salesforce.com (s crm) has a different idea in mind. With its Heroku platform, that just last week announced it will support Java (s orcl) and other languages, the infrastructure isn’t an option. And the bet it’s making is that people fundamentally won’t care about servers. Heroku’s co-founder, Adam Wiggins, told me last week that Heroku will add support for new languages and frameworks as time passes, but it wants to do so in a manner that really engages and serves the development community of a particular language. I’m curious if VMware’s pick-and-choose approach will gain traction over Salesforce’s more unified option, and if enterprise customers are really ready to give up choosing their infrastructure and can trust it to Salesforce.