VMware on AWS: A one-way ticket to the cloud

VMware on AWS: A one-way ticket to the cloud
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VMware private clouds will gain elasticity from the Amazon-VMware offering, but customers may eventually wonder why they need a private cloud at all

The big enterprise news last week was the Amazon-VMware announcement of VMware Cloud on AWS -- “a seamlessly integrated hybrid offering,” as the Amazon press release put it. That’s one way to describe this scheme to extend vSphere into the world's largest public cloud. But the real benefit is in making private clouds more practical, and in offering a new on-ramp to the public cloud for the enterprise.

Without question, VMware is the No. 1 provider of software for private clouds. But the private cloud has always had a fundamental problem: The basic definition of any cloud is the ability to scale on demand and offer self-service, yet the only way to make this work on-premises has been to overprovision. If you don't provision that fallow capacity, “self-service” becomes a request form to add physical hosts, and your private cloud is a pipe dream.

When VMware Cloud on AWS goes live sometime in 2017, VMware admins will be able to use vCenter to provision VMs in the AWS cloud on demand, just as they do on-prem. Suddenly, a whole bunch of VMware customers will get public cloud headroom on demand -- and access to all those exciting AWS services in the bargain.

Techies who live in the future are likely to greet VMware Cloud on AWS with a shrug. The private cloud (whatever that is) and on-premises computing in general are on the wane, they will say, as even the C-suite embraces the public cloud. As Brian Stevens, vice president of Google Cloud Platform, told me in a recent interview: “When people visit us in our briefing center, 90 percent of the time the CEO is with them, even at the largest enterprises.”

But the enterprise ascent to the public cloud is going to be a very long haul and will never be complete. You can’t overestimate the inertia in that kind of unprecedented lift, so anything that eases such migration is a good thing, including VMware Cloud on AWS. In this deal, Amazon gets to claim more enterprise workloads, which it fervently seeks, and IT gets to tell those cloud-besotted CEOs "yeah, we’re in the cloud big time" without having to learn a new toolset.

Less cynically, VMware workloads on AWS will be able to take advantage of the huge assortment of AWS services, from Redshift to Kinesis to AWS Lambda to the Aurora database. Mike Adams, VMware senior director of cloud platform product marketing, told InfoWorld last week that when VMware Cloud on AWS debuts, “If you want to access those services you use the VPC [Virtual Private Cloud] peering mode, so you can go ahead and interact with those services.” Asked if closer integration was in the offing, he replied that “a lot is possible as we move forward.”

More than elastic scaling and self-service, the most compelling benefit of public clouds and AWS in particular is instant access to a bounty of the latest, greatest enterprise technology. It goes without saying that this constitutes a major risk for VMware in this deal: The more workloads enterprises move to AWS and the more AWS services they exploit, the more they’ll be inclined to wonder why they’re bothering to pay VMware on top of standard AWS cloud rates.

In the short term, VMware also enjoys some benefits. At the event, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger himself told me that all customers need to take advantage of VMware Cloud on AWS is vCenter, but Adams later clarified that NSX is necessary for VPC peering, and “obviously the VSAN piece allows us to take advantage of some of the flash storage and other underlying entities, too.” The full VMware SDDC stack will be available as a managed service on AWS -- and VMware clearly hopes VMware Cloud on AWS will redound on the on-prem upsell. As Adams put it:

We’ve been trying to sell the full stack for a while because we think that there’s value in having the full SDDC infrastructure layer… Whatever model we come out with when we actually announce the actual pricing, I will guarantee you that the baseline of all offerings will be vSphere, NSX, and VSAN. There won’t be deviation from that model, because that model is the stack. It represents that cloud foundation set of technologies and is core to this overall solution.

So there’s that. Some customers may well upgrade their VMware stacks just to get the new AWS extendo capability. But I also can’t help but think that, when it comes to non-temporary workloads, this is ultimately an on-ramp without an off-ramp.

No wonder AWS CEO Andy Jassy looked like the proverbial cat who ate the canary at the event. VMware Cloud on AWS will be operated, managed, and sold by VMware, which means AWS barely needs to lift a finger to gain precious enterprise customers and can finally, legitimately claim a hybrid cloud offering. Amazon didn’t even need to buy VMware to get the benefit.

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