“Nonsense” is Pat Gelsinger’s response to the hype around digital business, which calls on enterprises to place sole focus on a new style of IT. “All business is digital business,” the VMware CEO proclaimed in his keynote address at VMworld 2016, adding that the “philosophy of two disparate worlds of IT which have to be managed differently” is a misnomer that does not accurately reflect current reality for the majority of organizations. In this oblique snub of the bimodal IT concept – and the enterprise’s inexorable progress towards an agile, exploratory approach to IT service delivery alone – Gelsinger argued the appropriateness of an evolutionary framework that acknowledges the importance of what has come before and the interdependence of traditional and digital IT. Noting the tremendous opportunity for competitive differentiation and customer engagement that advanced IT is now enabling, which is “as transformative as the Industrial Age,” he argued: one doesn’t replace the other, rather “it builds on what was done before,” as in the example of GE, where traditional and digital IT coexist and new systems are built on existing processes.” In the technology world, this ‘building’, he observed, is based on “optimizing predictable practices”– a strategy that VMware appears to have embraced in cloud, which Gelsinger identified as lying at the core of the “all digital world.”
Gelsinger’s remarks reflect a several aspects of VMware’s current perception of the cloud marketplace, and the company’s ideal position within it. In the first place, as “the foundation” of all digital change, cloud occupies a key role in the VMware vision; however, cloud deployments are now largely hybrid and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. According to VMware research, which combines internal and analyst data, in 2006, 98 percent of workloads ran on traditional infrastructure; in 2011, 22 percent of workloads were in cloud (including private); today, 75 percent of workloads continue to run on traditional IT; and cloud vs. traditional infrastructure operation will hit the 50/50 mark by 2021. If this conclusion is not necessarily news – the InsightaaS enterprise infrastructure forecast for Canada, published in 2014 and represented in the figure below, shows .94 spent on XaaS for every dollar spent on traditional IT in 2020 and parity in 2021 – what to do about it is. A goal post for organizations looking to maintain competitive edge by keeping pace with industry trends, this hybrid reality is a management issue for businesses, which has also consumed product development efforts at VMware over the last year or so, as well as announcements at the VMworld 2016 conference.
The pace of cloud shift represents another management challenge for VMware though – essentially the need to service customers with any mix of hybrid environments. While the preponderance of private cloud deployments identified in VMware research plays to company strengths in core virtualization technologies, as research shows, new requirements for integrating cloud must also be addressed. Building on what has come before, the company has extended platform capabilities in a number of areas that speak to hybrid management needs, delivering what VMware called at the event a combination of “Freedom” (multi-cloud access for business unit managers) and “Control” (enterprise security and governance for IT). These enhancements align roughly with four ‘Rs’ that also help to describe VMware strategy.
A key announcement at VMworld 2016 was Cloud Foundation, hyper-converged infrastructure for building private clouds that combines the three primary components of the VMware stack: vSphere, the company’s server virtualization software, vSAN, VMware’s virtual storage solution, and NSX, its network virtualization platform. On top of these existing solutions, VMware has added SDDC Manager, a management platform that provides single pane of glass insight into the Software Defined Data Center Foundation, and which automates the deployment and management of VMware cloud software. According to VMware, SDDC Manager helps cloud administrators create and maintain the entire VMware cloud software stack by automatically installing, configuring, managing and updating cloud infrastructure: the outcome is a complete cloud in a matter of hours, a 6-8x reduction in time to deploy cloud infrastructure, and (based on internal testing in January 2016), a TCO saving of 30 to 40 percent.
Building on this solid software Foundation, VMware has taken pains extend its solution out to other platforms, including turnkey VxRack Systems with integrated solutions from EMC, and to vSAN ready nodes from Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and QCT, which have been qualified and certified by VMware to run its software.
For customers needing to leverage legacy IT while investing in new digital infrastructure and applications, VMware has integrated Cloud Foundation with existing management and integration platforms to reduce the complexity involved in managing multiple, siloed deployments. According to VMware, any traditional or cloud-native application, from business-critical scale-up applications to distributed scale-out applications, can run on Cloud Foundation, whether these are VM or container-based. And while Cloud Foundation is aimed at delivering a consistent, resilient and secure managed infrastructure experience, VMware has integrated a number of existing solutions to provide IT with additional control, flexibility and choice. For example, using VMware tools such as the VMware vRealize Suite, customers gain access to an enterprise-ready cloud management platform that can speed IT service delivery and improve operations across heterogeneous, multi-cloud environments (vSphere and non-vSphere). Similarly, VMware vSphere Integrated Containers can also run on Cloud Foundation, speeding development through secure, multi-tenant self-service access to containers, and helping IT deploy and manage container services through familiar tools, knowledge, and processes. For customers building on OpenStack, the company also announced VMware Integrated OpenStack, which enables the deployment and management of a production-grade OpenStack cloud on top of VMware-based SDDC infrastructure. The goal in these announcements is to provide choice – containers or OpenStack – while simplify administration, as much as possible, by creating an environment that is as unified as possible.
New capabilities that empower the enterprise to harnessing the power of new digital technologies while leveraging existing investments in VMware’s virtualization platform that now features improved management and control should be welcome news to the company’s significant customer base. But the big new at the VMworld show was the technology preview of Cross-Cloud Services designed to showcase VMware integration with the public APIs of several cloud infrastructure providers that will in theory (services are currently under development) allow customers to manage, govern, and secure applications running in private and public clouds, including AWS, Azure and IBM Cloud. VMware support for bursting to additional public resources was in fact introduced earlier this year with announcement of a new partnership with IBM: to provide customers with more choice in public infrastructure, back in February VMware announced integration with IBM’ IaaS to enable migration of VMware workloads to IBM’s SoftLayer Cloud, and soon after followed suit by partnering with OVH, the large French-based data centre provider, which now offers “Software Defined Data Centre-as-a-Service.” These relationships mean that VMware users can now consume ESX, NSX, vRealize, etc. resources on partners’ public clouds on an OPEX basis. For example, VMware’s Cloud Foundation is now offered as an "as-a-service" option, delivered by the first partner in VMware vCloud Air Network – IBM. VMware expects Cloud Foundation will be available on additional public clouds, including vCloud Air, in the future.
While Robert LeBlanc, SVP IBM Cloud, who presented on the relationship at VMworld, did not specify exactly what new kinds of services VMware brings to the SoftLayer table that were not pre-existing in the IBM cloud, he noted the importance of offering customers the environment they already have installed on-premise. In face of the dominance of AWS in the public cloud market, the opportunity for onboarding new customers is a significant one for IBM, which has sought to differentiate through hybrid capabilities: the company now counts 500 users of the VMware Foundation on the SoftLayer Cloud and looks forward to accelerating this adoption curve with the help of 4,000 service professionals trained to help customers migrate their VMware infrastructure to the cloud. For VMware, the agreement provides global coverage through IBM’s extensive data centre network, and for its users, a seamless path to public resources that feature a familiar toolset, as well as an additional security wrapper provided by NSX microsegmentation, which extends security from the network to data at rest residing within public cloud environments. IBM, OVH, AWS and Azure are just the first partners; going forward, VMware stated its intent to develop integrations with additional public providers, including the popular SaaS vendor offerings. Summarizing, Gelsinger noted: “VMware is uniquely positioned to be that neutral provider of cloud services.”
Despite this potential for additional partnerships, VMware stated its ongoing commitment to the less than successful vCloud Air, and is in fact, using its public cloud platform to build out specific offerings. For example, at the show, the company announced the availability of vCloud Director, which uses vSphere replication capabilities, to support partners’ creation of simple, cost-effective cloud-based disaster recovery services. Targeted at VMware vCloud Air Network service providers, the solution is designed for simplicity to support and foster rapid customer adoption and growth, and relies on vCloud Director management of multi-tenant environments to help partners achieve additional monetization.
To reinforce customers’ ability to work across VMware private cloud and public vCloud Air, the company also announced a new version of Hybrid Cloud Manager that promises simplified application migration and improved performance of the connection between the two environments. Travelling over an optimized, software-defined WAN that allows networks to extend into the cloud, the Hybrid Manager allows workloads to perform as if they were local, with bidirectional migration of entire applications, as well as the migration of NSX security policies to vCloud Air networking. According to VMware, with the optimized network that enhancements to the Hybrid Cloud Manager provide, customers will be able to move virtual machines up to 20 times faster while retaining the on-premise security policies and controls.
VMware calls enterprise ability to run, manage, connect, and secure their applications across multiple clouds and devices in a common operating environment the new “Cross-Cloud Architecture.” Outlining the sense of this, Alberto Farronato, senior director, product marketing for VMware Integrated Systems, described Cross-Cloud Architecture as “really a term that we use to refer to our vision for hybrid cloud. It’s used to describe what our objectives are from a technology standpoint, what we want to enable from a capability standpoint to create a hybrid cloud that spans both VMware on-premise deployment as well various public clouds that could be VMware or not. It’s a broad vision.” Cross-Cloud Architecture, then, is a vision statement as opposed to a new solution or platform approach. Announced with much fanfare at VMworld 2016, the term is designed to encapsulate new product enhancements that each find solid ground in “what has come before.” While the SDDC Manager represents new management capability that unifies management of the three primary components of the software-defined data centre, the software is built on earlier breakthroughs, including NSX, a platform that was truly revolutionary for its time. Similarly, Cross-Cloud services are built on migration capabilities that VMware has been working towards for several years now with Hybrid Cloud Manager and other solutions. This approach to building tools and capabilities has clear advantages: rebranding presents old as new, while enabling systematic development and “optimization of predictable practices,” and in this case, may help the VMware customer think more strategically about how they may unify and simplify management of an increasingly complex cloud world. And as Raghu Raghuram, EVP and GM of VMware’s Software-Defined Data Center Division, explained, “One of our core design principles [for new Foundation and Cross Cloud Services software] was based on the notion that existing customers needed to be able to draw operators from IT into their cloud evolutionary journey and for this, we needed to provide a familiar experience. What we have shown on stage are tools that are very focused on existing operators. Having said that, the public cloud is a very different beast that presents many learning opportunities. Our belief is that our customers will go through an evolutionary process, starting with what they are really good at, [and learn] as virtualization applications are now becoming cloud applications.” In other words, VMware is looking provide familiar tools that can help customers leverage existing infrastructure and knowledge as they gradually introduce the automation needed to simplify operation for the IT worker during transition to advanced cloud deployment. As a strategy for delicate times – the Dell acquisition of the EMC federation, including VMware, is now complete – doubling down on core strengths and evolutionary change for VMware’s existing and extensive customer base has much merit. Will the balance swing at VMworld 2017?