After fumbling public clouds, VMware focuses on hybrid clouds

VMware's approach of pulling together the data center and pubic cloud should appeal to IT, if the company can pull it off

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From what company officials said this week at EMC VMware’s annual VMworld conference held in San Francisco, you'd think that its public cloud vCloud Air was in the same market tier as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. It's not.

vCloud Air simply doesn't come up in my conversations with organizations looking to move some, most, or all servers to the cloud. AWS and Azure do.

VMware's hybrid capabilities

There’s no point to dwell on missing the public cloud infrastructure. Instead, it appears VMware will focus on the market where it currently has traction, meaning in the data center. Thus, what VMware described this week were hybrid capabilities in its cloud offerings to extend an organization's data center to the public cloud without compromising security and compliance features.

VMware officials talked up a "one cloud" approach based on a combination of Cloud Air (public cloud), vCloud Air Network (managed cloud), and data center (private cloud) with simple connectivity between systems. The hybrid approach is key because most companies simply cannot move everything to the public cloud.

To that end, VMware demonstrated a new set of features called Cross-Cloud vMotion, as well as Content Sync between on-premises servers and the vCloud Air platform.  VMware claims that Cross-Cloud vMotion provides easy bidirectional migration without downtime (such downtime is an issue in its current hybrid cloud offering). Content Sync lets customers subscribe to an on-premises content library and synchronize VM templates, vApps, ISOs, and scripts with their content catalog in vCloud Air.

VMware also adjusted its offerings around disaster recovery, another important aspect of any hybrid cloud solution, to make them easier for IT to swallow. For example, in the new Disaster Recovery OnDemand, the pricing for vCloud Air Disaster Recovery has a pay-as-you-consume model with a flat fee for VMs and storage used, but compute usage is charged only if a disaster occurs and a failover VM is running. 

VMware's strength is its competitors' weakness

VMware may gain ground against the major competitors if this new "from the data center out" hybrid approach works. It's an interesting contrast to the challenge that AWS and Google both face: They have lots ion companies using their public cloud infrastructure, but they lack sufficient connections into on-premises systems.

Hoping that every server will be moved to the AWS or Google cloud is no longer a reasonable line of thought -- and the two companies know it. But what they don’t have is the on-premises following that VMware has through its vSphere virtualization platform.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has a strengths both in-premises (Hyper-V) and in the public cloud (Azure). And it's been connecting the two, such as through Cloud Platform Service and Microsoft Azure Stack. VMware's data center advantage is not so strong in a Microsoft environment. Microsoft also has expanded its System Center tool to work better with hybrid and public cloud environments through the Microsoft Operations Management Suite, launched earlier this year.

If the cloud wars are won based on hybrid cloud battles, VMware is making a good move by putting the hybrid cloud at the top of its agenda.

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