markrubens - Fotolia

VMware banks on competitive collaboration to succeed in multi-cloud era

VMware explains why cosying up to the competition makes sense when it comes to helping customers negotiate the multi-cloud world

VMware has spent most of the last decade helping enterprises improve the utilisation and efficiency of their datacentres through server virtualisation, while laying the groundwork for companies to build hybrid cloud environments to run their apps and workloads.

Thanks to the use of virtual machines, it has historically been VMWare’s view that enterprises will want the freedom to move their applications, as required, between on-premise datacentres and into private or public cloud environments.

For enterprises that have traditionally virtualised, automated and managed their on-premise datacentres with VMware’s technology, moving workloads to a private or public cloud built on a similar foundation makes the process easier, according to Ajay Patel, senior vice president of product development in VMware’s cloud services division.

“The easiest way to take a VMware datacentre workload, without needing to rewrite applications or do any kind of changes, and move it out of the datacentre is to move it to a VMware cloud,” he told Computer Weekly at VMworld US.

“They can use the same tools, the same best practices, the same ecosystem partners and security models [as before], while maintaining their high fidelity.”

While Patel makes a case for building clouds on VMware, in reality many enterprises are likely to find themselves at some time having to wrest shifting workloads between environments that lack such underlying compatibility.

For example, although they might use VMware’s technology in their datacentres or to underpin an on-premise private cloud, they might also want to make use of the Amazon, Microsoft and Google public clouds.

This is a trend that has not gone unnoticed by VMware, and it has responded with the preview release of its Cross-Cloud Services (CCS) system.

Having made its debut at VMworld US 2016, CCS shows VMware taking tentative steps towards adopting a “co-opetition” approach to working with its competitors in the cloud.

The system gives enterprises access to an online, central control hub that allows them to monitor and manage concurrent workloads running in Amazon, Microsoft and Google public clouds using their open application programming interfaces (APIs).

Read more about VMware

Mark Chuang, senior director of VMware’s software-defined datacentre (SDDC) division, told Computer Weekly:  “We are saying to our customers that we understand there are many reasons why they have so many clouds, and we’re not here to talk about why, but how we can help them with that.

“We are saying, let us help you with the networking, with the management, and workload portability between a VMware cloud, an Amazon cloud, an Azure cloud and Google cloud, because that is the reality of the situation they need help with.”

According to VMware, rolling out CCS is its way of helping enterprises improve the efficiency of their cloud deployments, in much the same way as vSphere helps to improve the performance and agility of their on-premise server farms.

It makes sense for VMware to play a mediatory role in the cloud, says Chaung, and its existing enterprise customers are demanding that it take this position.

“Because of the role we have played in running their on-premise datacentres, they are coming to us and asking what we can do to help effectively manage their VMware-based clouds, but also all the other pockets of activity they have got going on in Azure, AWS and Google,” he says.

Nice and neutral

VMware’s own approach to public cloud means it is not going directly head-to-head with any of the big three, putting it in more of a neutral position than if, say, Microsoft attempted to roll out something like CCS, said Chaung.

For example, VMware does not operate its own public cloud, but relies on its roll-call of vCloud Air Network partners to fulfil its customers’ infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and, often, their managed private cloud requirements by using its software stack to underpin their offerings.

“Yes, we do have our own vCloud Air offering, but it seems like a much more natural fit for us to take a cross-cloud position,” he said.

“If I pretend to step into the shoes of someone at Amazon or Microsoft, they might not be as open to supporting their fellow cloud competitors.”

Invading the enterprise

Both Amazon and Google have made no secret of the fact that, having found initial success among the startup community, their top priority is to drive up the use of their cloud services in the enterprise market.

Bearing that (and the size of VMware’s enterprise footprint) in mind, Patel said AWS and Google had much to gain by forging closer ties with the company.

“Their momentum has been driven by line of business [IT purchase], the rise of new applications and these born-in-the-cloud companies, but when they go to a large enterprise, they realise they are going to have to figure out how to live in this co-existing world of cloud and on-premise,” said Patel.

“Some of these newer workloads might be built on AWS, but they still connect to databases running on-premise or in the datacentres. So it’s not the case that if public cloud wins, VMware loses, becauseVMware will be a critical partner in bringing all this together.”

Changing IT buying behaviour

A point repeatedly made by VMware executives at this year’s VMworld US was the fact that enterprises are done with their own datacentres, which may go some way to explaining why the company is turning its attention to playing nice with its competitors in the cloud.

Couple that trend with Gartner’s observation, published in May 2016, that the server virtualisation market has reached its peak, and the pressure on VMware to uncover new sources of revenue becomes even more apparent.

But that is not to say VMware’s work in the enterprise datacentre is done, said Chaung, because server virtualisation on its own is rarely enough to achieve the business agility most businesses crave.

“Within the datacentre, until you get networking and storage virtualised too, you will never be able to realise the full aspirations of cloud computing, in terms of achieving the agility and efficiency benefits everyone is looking for,” he said.

“What good is it if you can get a naked virtual machine up and running in two minutes, but you have to wait two weeks to launch a new VLAN?”

Second-quarter results

VMware’s second-quarter financial results, published in July 2016, bear this out. They show that vSphere sales now account for less than half of the licences the company shifted during those three months.

Instead, most of the company’s licensing revenue for the quarter came from its network virtualisation offering, NSX, and its storage virtualisation system, VSAN.

From a service provider standpoint, VMware is also likely to feel the pinch from some of its cheaper hypervisor competitors, such as Microsoft’s Hyper-V or Linux-based KVM, said Clive Longbottom, service director of IT market watcher Quocirca.

For service providers looking to keep costs low as they scale up their operations, these lower-cost alternatives are likely to prove popular, he said.

Hybrid cloud success

That said, given that most virtualised enterprise workloads are based on its software, VMware does have an advantage there, but it remains to be seen whether this will translate into hybrid cloud success for the firm.

“It has to use the rest of its very effective ecosystem of tools to try to make the move [from the datacentre] through a hybrid to a predominantly public cloud platform as easy as possible, while still keeping a commercial finger or 10 in the pie,” said Longbottom.

Along with its plans to court the public cloud players by positioning itself as the “Switzerland” of the cloud infrastructure market, Longbottom said VMware is also likely to pursue this approach in other areas of its business over time.

“Expect to see it focusing on using its ecosystem to manage ESX [VMware’s hypervisor], Hyper-V, KVM and other platforms along with virtual machines, containers, DevOps, agile, continuous delivery, all as part of the software-defined datacentre approach,” he said.

Read more on Managing servers and operating systems