VMware hybrid cloud aims at silencing 'network trombones'

Cloud news at VMworld 2015 confirmed the currency of two themes that have steered the cloud discourse over the past couple of years: the emergence of public cloud as the dominant IT service delivery mechanism, and blurring of the lines between PaaS and IaaS. If the shift towards adoption of public cloud is slow, it now appears to be inexorable. Data from recent market research conducted by Wikibon has shown IT growth to be heavily skewed towards public cloud, leading Wikibon analysts to forecast that 33 percent of all IT spending will move to public within the next decade. At the same time, however, it is also clear that a good deal of this shift will take place through growth in SaaS delivery: in software research for 2015, Forrester projects that global SaaS revenues for 2016 will increase 21 percent over projected 2015 spending levels, reinforcing longer term cloud trends that Forrester has outlined in the dramatic market sizing graphic presented below:

Forrester - cloud market forecast
Click to view.

IaaS service spending is also increasing – at an annual rate of 32.8 percent in 2015, and with a CAGR of 29.1 percent from 2014 to 2019, according to Gartner’s latest forecast – but without the vigour shown in SaaS markets. Indeed, IT buyers appear to have reservations with respect to cloud infrastructure adoption, exhibiting ongoing preference for private over public cloud spending, as the figure from Ovum Research below shows:

Click to view.
Click to view.

For vendors of IT infrastructure products and services, these cloud market stats present a challenging conundrum – how to ensure that you capture broad momentum towards cloud service delivery, while addressing the needs of rapid growth in SaaS application delivery and lingering customer preferences for private cloud infrastructures? VMware’s answer is called “Unified Hybrid Cloud,” a cloud platform that delivers one consistent environment based on VMware vSphere which allows customers to run traditional or cloud-native applications across both private and public clouds.

VMware’s claim to work across hybrid scenarios is not new, but it is changing. A pioneer and long term market leader for the virtualization software required to build private clouds, the company’s initial embrace of public cloud was decidedly more circumspect than it is today. When the vCloud Hybrid Service was introduced by VMware’s SVP and GM of VMware’s Hybrid Cloud Services Business Unit Bill Fathers at VMworld 2013, it was framed as a reluctant response to customer requests for extension to public resources of their private platforms, which was and would remain the dominant model. Flash forward to 2015, and VMware has showcased vCloud Air announcements as the centerpiece of much of its hybrid cloud innovation at this year’s event. Acknowledging increased interest and growth opportunities in public cloud, VMware announced significant expansions to its vCloud Air services portfolio, in storage management and database management systems in particular – areas that have been popular choices for cloud adoption, and popular options for the development of new services that many providers are also building to differentiate in a challenging IaaS marketplace. New public cloud services announced at VMworld 2015 are as follows:

  • VMware vCloud Air Disaster Recovery Services, featuring a single cloud-based orchestration console for delivery of unified protection for all on-premise and off-premises resources. New service enhancements to be delivered include Disaster Recovery OnDemand, a pay-for-what-you-consume pricing option for VMware vCloud Air Disaster Recovery. This means customers will pay a flat fee for each VM protected and for the amount of storage consumed by VMs, and when a DR test is run or a DR event occurs, customers will only pay for the compute consumed when VMs are running. VMware also introduced Site Recovery Manager Air, a SaaS-based management solution that allows vCloud Air Disaster Recovery customers to design, test, execute and orchestrating centralized business continuity and DR plans.
  • vCloud Air Object Storage, a portfolio of scalable, reliable and cost effective storage services for unstructured data. Integrated into the OnDemand solution, Cloud Air Object Storage is delivered in two ways: powered either by the Google Cloud Platform and based on Google Cloud Storage, or powered by EMC Cloud Services and based on EMC ViPR. According to VMware, vCloud Air Object Storage is easy to install and reduces the need for data protection with built-in redundancy, a feature that allows for better support of global use cases.
  • vCloud Air SQL, VMware’s new database-as-a-service offering has been designed for easy access to scalable, cloud-hosted relational databases. Delivered on a pay-as-you-go model and built on the vSphere foundation, vCloud Air SQL will support hybrid data solutions that extend on-premises databases, such as Microsoft SQL Server, to the cloud. With a variety of memory, compute and storage options, and plans to support other relational databases in the future, this database solution approximates the kind of services typically delivered in PaaS offerings, where, for example, the automated provisioning of database resources is aimed at enabling rapid application development and deployment.

But beyond more cloud (more public cloud facilities), more cloud services, and more SaaS-based support for operators and developers, the company also announced innovations at VMworld 2015 that lie at the heart of VMware’s increasingly unique value proposition – management across complex hybrid cloud environments. VMware has a long history of delivering the vSphere hypervisor and related software needed to build and manage private cloud, and is now demonstrating growing services capability in the public cloud realm. But it is the intersection of these two that presents management challenges to cloud adopters tasked with negotiating hybrid IT/hybrid cloud environments in daily operations, and which provides VMware a vehicle for differentiation via the simplifying and unification of the complex of cloud environments.

The overarching foundation for VMware’s Unified Hybrid Cloud strategy is the “Software-Defined Data Center,” a construct that the company has been working towards through the extension of software management throughout the data centre stack. Key to this vision of SDDC – and to hybrid cloud – are capabilities that draw together computing resources, whereever they may reside. VMware achieves this through two primary means – unified, single pane of glass platform management across clouds and advanced networking that enables the interconnection between on prem and off prem resources, public and private clouds, and clouds of clouds. At the event, VMware announced updates to both technology solution areas.

On the management front, the company launched version 6.1 of the company’s vRealize Operations management solution, which features “Intelligent Workload Placement” capability that matches workload to a customer’s specific IT/business need. According to VMware, the software recommends the best (cloud) location for individual workloads, and manages this requirement on an ongoing basis through “Proactive Rebalancing. V 6.1 also offers “self-learning” system and application monitoring, along with predictive analytics to enable proactive identification of potential problems in cloud infrastructure.

But it is in networking that the key enablement (or bottlenecks) of hybrid cloud occur. According to VMware, the latest version of its network virtualization platform, VMware NSX 6.2 offers enhanced disaster recovery and metro-pooling for more efficient use of resources throughout a single data center and across data centers – and hence greater application continuity. It also provides better integration with physical infrastructure for more consistent operations across the data center network, extends micro segmentation to physical servers for enhanced security, and features integration with Site Recovery Manager 6.1, allowing IT to use network virtualization to simplify disaster recovery management. Through advanced NSX networking services that enable rapid recreation of vLANs inside vCloud Air to support cloud bursting, enhanced hybrid network management services delivered via Hybrid Cloud Manager (part of vCloud Air) that include stretch layer 2 gateways to connect different environments, and live migration of VMs at scale between sites via cross-vCenter vMotion operations, VMware is working to power the workload mobility that is key to the promise of data and application portability in hybrid cloud.

This creation of a secure tunnel for the migration of VMs between private and public clouds is also not new, rather, it was presented as a key VMware capability several years back, as this video interview from VMworld 2013 (at 3:50) shows. But as Angelos Kottas, senior director, product marketing for hybrid cloud at VMware, noted at this year’s conference, and as the demo of the Project Skyscraper technology preview featured on day two of this year’s event showed, VMware is pushing performance on workload migration to render the migration of VMs virtually transparent to users.

Angelos Kottas, senior director product marketing, hybrid cloud, VMware
Angelos Kottas, senior director product marketing, hybrid cloud, VMware

According to Kottas, this particular networking journey has been “evolutionary,” starting back in 2013 with vCloud Connector, a product that in conjunction with vCloud Network and Security edge gateways, supported stretch layer 2 networking. But unlike the Hybrid Cloud Manager of today, vCloud Connector was complicated to deploy, could not scale past a single stretch network, and only worked by mirroring the user’s data centre architecture into vCloud Air. Hybrid Cloud Manager, on the other hand, which has NSX baked into the solution (does not rely on separate edge gateways) has what Kottas called “a superior network typology that allows you to take multiple networks and stretch them over a single Hybrid Cloud Manager connection” – to solve, for example, issues of scale. In addition, with the Hybrid Cloud Manager, it is not necessary for all data traffic to traverse the data centre before connecting to cloud, a requirement in earlier architectures that created bottlenecks called “network tromboning.” Instead, once the network is stretched with Hybrid Cloud Manager, the vCloud Air presence can connect directly with the public Internet, removing the need to re-route traffic back and forth between data centre and public cloud. The outcome, in Kottas’ view, has been significant improvement in scalability, flexibility and performance over two years.

To accelerate what has been a relatively slow VM migration process, VMware has also focused development effort on Cross-Cloud vMotion capability in Hybrid Cloud Manager. As Kottas explained, “In the world of vCloud Connector, when you were moving a VM from one place to another, you would have to power down that VM and it could take two to four hours to move that between sites before you could power it back up again.” But with Hybrid Cloud Manger, he explained, VMware has leveraged the replication engine in vSphere to stage the migration before it occurs: “this means that we fully replicate the VM so that when you do the final migration, you are not moving the entire file, you are only making a delta change on the incremental changes to the application that have been made since the last replication. As a result, a migration that could take hours, will now take 10 or 15 minutes because the only downtime is how much drift there has been between the two VMs since the last replication.”

Though the first migration of the VM will still consume timeframes measured in hours, Kottas argued the benefits of the evolved solution in real life operations as follows: “moving a VM that has not been replicated will still take longer, but HCM allows you to schedule the migration, do the replication, and then say, ‘let me know when you’re ready and I can push it the last mile with only a very brief interruption’. So though the total migration may be the same, downtime for the VM has been reduced from hours to minutes.”

Workload migration through Cross-Cloud vMotion and Content Sync, which was demoed as Project Skyscraper at the VMworld event, takes this innovation a next step on this journey by transforming what VMware calls low downtime migration to live migration – with zero downtime. “This doesn’t mean we have changed the laws of physics,” Kottas explained, “We can’t live migrate instantaneously – it still takes time to do the staging. But what is does do is basically erase that outage. It may take hours to stage the live migration, but while you do the transfer, the application stays up and running the entire time with zero interruption.”

So why does this matter? If public cloud adoption will continue its advance – as market research tells us it will – and if hybrid cloud will remain the dominant deployment model for some time – as research suggests it will – then the ability to connect public/private and multiple clouds is a critical requirement, especially in a competitive market environment where rapid, reliable and remote application delivery is increasingly can mean the difference between organizational failure and success.

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