How VMware is tackling the challenges of doing business in the hybrid, multi-cloud era

VMworld US 2016 suggests VMware is under no illusions about the challenges it faces, as its traditional customers cede control for IT buying to line of business units and start exploring their multi-cloud options.

“There’s no such thing as challenges, only opportunities,” seems to be the mantra of VMware’s senior management team, based on Ahead in the Cloud’s (AitC) trip to VMworld US in Las Vegas this week.

Over the course of the week-long VMware partner and customer event, its execs adopted an almost Pollyanna-style approach to discussing the issues the company is facing, on the back of cloud computing changing the way enterprise IT is consumed, purchased and operated.

As a direct result of this trend, enterprises are becoming increasingly inclined to shutter the datacentres VMware has spent the past decade helping them optimise the performance of.

While some might consider this a challenge for a company that has previously sold a heck of a lot of server virtualisation software to the enterprise, VMware thinks differently.

After all, the workloads that previously whirred away in these private datacentres will need to run somewhere, which opens up sales opportunities for VMware’s network of service provider partners.

As more enterprises go down this path, presumably, this will drive demand within its pool of service provider partners for more datacentre capacity, but also for better performing and more efficient facilities too.

This, it is hoped, should serve to offset any downturn in enterprise sales of VMware’s software, as service providers snap up its wares to kit out their new facilities.

Line of business cloud

Another challenge is the shift in IT buying power that cloud has caused within the enterprise, which has seen line of business units dip into their own budgets to procure services without the involvement of the IT department.

For a company whose products have traditionally been purchased by CIOs and championed by IT departments, you might be fooled into thinking this sounds like an awful development. But you would be wrong. It’s great, according to VMware.

While the marketing, HR and finance department might not need IT’s help with procuring cloud, they will almost certainly turn to them for support in addressing their security, compliance and uptime requirements, the company’s CEO Pat Gelsinger assured attendees during the opening day of VMworld 2016.

In turn, every line of line business unit will come to realise they need the IT department (probably when something they’ve whacked on the company credit card goes kaput), paving the way for the IT and the wider business to become more closely aligned. Or so the theory goes.

Collaborative competition

Even the prospect of VMware customers opting to run workloads in the Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud is something to be cheered, rather than feared, claims VMware.

While it would love customers to run their enterprises exclusively from a VMware software-laced datacentre, private cloud or public cloud, the reality of the situation is that enterprises are increasingly taking a multi-supplier approach to IT procurement.

Part of this is being driven by line of business unit assuming responsibility for IT purchases, which can lead to a patchwork of cloud services being used within the walls of some companies, says Mark Chuang, senior director of VMware’s software-defined datacentre (SDDC) division.

“People can set up on that path, saying ‘I’m going to have a multi-vendor strategy and optimise for whatever is the best deal at the time,’ and by deal I mean performance, SLAs and coupled with the cost and all that. Other times it could be because of shadow IT, or because an acquisition has taken place,” he tells AitC.

VMware, he argues, is perfectly positioned to help enterprises manage their multi-cloud environments, because – after years of taking care of their datacentre investments – CIOs trust it to fulfil a similar role in the public cloud.

To this end, the company announced the preview release of its Cross-Cloud Services offering, which Computer Weekly has dug a little deeper into here, at VMworld US.

Crossing the cloud divide

CCS is effectively an online hub that will allow enterprises to concurrently manage their AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform deployments via a central, online control hub.

The setup relies on the public cloud giant’s open APIs and public interfaces to work, and – the impression AitC gets is – that’s as close as the collaboration between VMware and the big three gets on this. At least for now.

While the show saw VMware announce an extension of its on-going public cloud partnership with IBM, it appears we’re a little way off VMware embarking on formal agreements of a similar ilk with AWS, Microsoft and Google.

Making multi-cloud work

That’s not to say it will not happen, and – as outlined in the Computer Weekly’s deep-dive into VMware’s Cross-Cloud Services vision – there are plenty of reasons why it would make sense for Amazon and Google, specifically, too.

Both companies are looking to drive up their share of the enterprise market, so aligning with VMware (given the size of its footprint in most large firms’ datacentres) wouldn’t be a bad move.

Such collaboration, geared towards making the process of managing multiple, complex cloud deployments easier, could also give IT departments the confidence to run more of their workloads in off-premise environments, which is only ever going to be good news for all concerned.

Obviously, this would require all parties to set aside their competitive differences to work, which is the biggest stumbling block of all. But, given the multi-supplier approach companies appear to be increasingly taking in the cloud, they might need to swallow pride and just get stuck in.