Is VMware a top influencer in server hardware design? Yes

You can’t build data center hardware or software without addressing the cloud.  VMware’s focus on virtualization put them in a key position for the cloud.  Here is an interesting post from VMware office of the CTO’s Richard A. Brunner.

"Day-Zero" Enablement of New Microprocessors and Servers at VMware

Richard A. Brunner
An Office of the CTO Guest Blog
By Richard A. Brunner, Chief Platform Architect, Office of the CTO

In early 2009, my colleagues and I formed an internal server roadmap team, that has been meeting weekly since then, to plan for new microprocessor launches up to two years in advance. By tracking the microprocessor launches, we are generally able to support the launch of new servers, which are usually aligned. In this way we can ensure that we have timely support for the latest and greatest microprocessor and server technologies.

This got me thinking who has the most influence in the server hardware designs.  Here is the process VMware now uses for new processors.

Based on our experience over the last few years, we have developed the process around four phases of availability and maturity of new microprocessor and prototype components (see figure below). The timelines for these phases can be described relative to the day-zero date of a given microprocessor generation. Note that, as mentioned earlier, every new microprocessor generation has its own independent timeline that is seldom aligned with any other. (The timeframes discussed below are for a new major generation, such as the introduction of the Intel "Nehalem" generation; the timeframes for minor generational changes, such as the introduction of the Intel "Westmere" generation is more compressed.)


  • 1st Phase CPU Prototypes: this is when VMware gets the very first samples of a new microprocessor (CPU) generation in very fragile platforms directly from AMD and Intel. This phase starts between 10 to 11 months before the day-zero date.
  • 2nd Phase CPU Prototypes: in this phase, VMware receives more mature microprocessor revisions that are adequate for us to finish our development processes. Typically, microprocessors in this phase show up between 7 to 8 months before the day-zero date. The same microprocessors also tend show up a few weeks later in the first phase OEM prototypes.
  • 3rd Phase OEM Prototypes: our server-vendor partners provide us the first prototypes of actual retail servers that will use the new microprocessor technology. This phase starts between 5 to 6.5 months before the day-zero date.
  • 4th Phase OEM Production: this is the final step where VMware validates candidate releases of vSphere on near production-level server platforms. This phase is usually 2 to 3 months before the day-zero date. If we are successful in our final internal testing, the certification window for partners opens soon thereafter.

Note the phase 3 when server OEMs get involved.

At the start of the 3rd phase, a number of the server vendors generously loan us early prototype platforms of their new servers populated with the new microprocessor generation. It is not possible to recognize all of our partners here, but companies such as AMD, Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, IBM, Intel, HP, and many others have supported VMware in this way. These platforms allow enablement for server-vendor specific features by the vmkernel and I/O Device Driver Engineering teams.

Phase 4 has performance optimization.

One of the last stops for a new microprocessor generation is at the lab of our Performance Engineering team. This team characterizes the performance improvement we can expect to see from a new microprocessor generation. Oftentimes they find performance bottlenecks that require attention in either our code or the microprocessor itself. One of the most critical activities they perform is to run VMware's VMmark benchmark on these prototype systems to ensure that performance expectations have been met. This analysis always happens in the 4th phase and may happen in the 3rd phase if the server vendor platforms are stable enough.