VMware takes another whack at the cloud

Bill Fathers, senior VP for hybrid cloud, dishes on VMware's new partner strategy to deliver hybrid cloud computing to the enterprise

Correction: In our conversation with Bill Fathers, we were given the impression VMware would not be offering its own public cloud service. A VMware spokesperson contacted us subsequently to note that this was a misunderstanding and in fact VMware will be offering such a service, although no details were offered. This post has been edited to reflect the correction.

Being first mover has its advantages. Among public cloud services, Amazon still boasts the vast majority of IaaS customers and the richest array of features (see InfoWorld's public cloud megaguide for details).

But is Amazon the place for production enterprise workloads? The idea of putting the family jewels in the public cloud tends to make enterprise IT managers squirm. Generally speaking, those workloads stay in the data center.

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VMware thinks it can change that with a hybrid cloud strategy, where on-premises VMware infrastructure melds with public IaaS to yield one seamless cloud. Bill Fathers, senior vice president and general manager for hybrid cloud, sketched out this approach to InfoWorld last week.

VMware everywhere

VMware will work with IaaS partners on a hybrid cloud strategy, where enterprise customers can manage local VMware infrastructure and public cloud VMware infrastructure of a piece using familiar tools such as vCloud Director. For VMware and its IaaS partners, this will be sort of a "VMware inside" play. In addition, Fathers said, VMware will offer its own IaaS service, although he did not offer details.

On the surface, that sounded like the same general strategy former VMware CEO Paul Maritz floated two years ago, when he talked about fostering a global ecosystem of telcos that would provide enterprise-class VMware pubic cloud services. Already, Verizon Terramark and Dell offer VMware public clouds.

So what's different? According to Fathers, VMware has recognized that for the hybrid dream to become reality -- where enterprises can easily move workloads among clouds and manage resources as more or less a single fabric -- VMware must develop a standardized public cloud solution for its partners. Fathers said that VMware has been working on this for a while, and although it doesn't have a name yet, more details will be forthcoming at VMworld.

This hybrid approach has always made sense in theory, but the standardization Fathers is talking about is essential for a unified pubic/private platform, unless you find the idea of ironclad lock-in to a single provider appealing. Similar hybrid goodness is part of the promise of OpenStack -- which envisions an ecosystem of public and private OpenStack clouds across which workloads matriculate easily -- but the OpenStack consortium is years away from making this a reality.

Interestingly, one of the companies furthest along in this vein this is Microsoft, which with Windows Server and System Center 2012 has begun offering hybrid-style integration with Windows Azure. That coincides nicely with dramatic improvements in Hyper-V, plus Microsoft's decision a year ago to loosen up and offer IaaS rather than pushing PaaS only. In addition, Microsoft has its own partner program, where independent service providers can buy a turnkey version of the Azure platform and offer it to customers.

By contrast, VMware has yet to spin up its own offering, so it's unclear whether VMware's IaaS or those of partners will launch first. While Fathers stopped short of suggesting there will be a certification program, he said VMware plans to "choose its partners very carefully at first" to ensure they deliver on the value proposition -- an enterprise-class, VMware-driven cloud. That seems essential for the strategy to succeed.

Fulfilling the hybrid promise

In one sense, it's obvious there's a market for a truly hybrid VMware cloud that can extend the capabilities of enterprises as needed -- and that high-end customers would be willing to pay a premium for that over the "commodity" offerings of, say, Amazon or Rackspace.

But this vision is not new and it's taken a while for VMware to settle on a strategy. The balance between maintaining enterprise quality of service and catching up in the cloud game is going to be tricky. Much will depend on the details of the new public cloud technology package to be offered to partners -- and which partners commit to offering the new service.

I've often wondered: By the time we get all these standardized IaaS offerings ironed out, will enterprises have already turned to SaaS for all but their legacy enterprise applications? By their nature, those legacy apps don't need to scale like, say, public-facing Web apps do. I think there will be a place for VMware hybrid clouds, but they may be the solution of choice for a bygone era.

This article, "VMware takes another whack at the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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