VMware's hybrid cloud gambit will rely on its public cloud partners

vCloud Hybrid Service would provide the glue that connects customer's private clouds with third-party public VMware clouds

VMware has been rather cagey about its plans to launch its own hybrid cloud service, announced at a recent Strategic Forum for Institutional Investors. Companies are usually more than happy to talk journalists' ears off about a new product or service, but when InfoWorld reached out to VMware about this one, a spokesman said the company had nothing further to share beyond what it presented in a sparse press release and a two-hour, multi-topic webcast.

In a nutshell, here's what VMWare has revealed: It will offer a VMware vCloud Hybrid Service later this year, designed to let customers seamlessly extend their private VMware clouds to public clouds run by the company's 220 certified vCloud Services Providers. Although the public component would run on partners' hardware, VMware employees would manage the hybrid component and the underlying software.

For example, suppose Company X is running a critical cloud application on its own private, VMware-virtualized cloud. The company unexpectedly sees a massive uptick in demand for the service. Rather than having to hustle to install new hardware, Company X could leverage VMware's hybrid service to consume public-cloud resources on the fly. In the process, Company X would not have to make any changes to the application, the networking architecture, or any of the underlying policies, as VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger described the service.

"[T]he power of what we'll uniquely be delivering, is this ability to not change the app, not change the networking, not change the policies, not change the security, and be able to run it private or public. That you could burst through the cloud, that you could develop in the cloud, deploy internally, that you could DR in the cloud, and do so without changing the apps, with that complete flexibility of a hybrid service" he said.

One of the delicate points in this plan is the question of how it will impact the aforementioned 220 VSPP partners, which include such well-known companies as CDW, Dell, and AT&T as well as lesser-known providers likeLokahi and VADS. Would VMware inserting itself into the mix result in the company stepping on its partners' toes and eating up some of their cloud-hosting revenue?

Gelsinger did take pains to emphasize that the hybrid service would be "extremely partner-friendly," adding that "every piece of intellectual property that we're developing here we're making available to VSPP partners," he said. "Ultimately, we see this as another tool for business agility."

451 Research Group analyst Carl Brooks took an optimistic view on the matter. "Using VSPP partner's data centers and white-labeling existing infrastructure would both soothe hurt feelings and give VMware an ability to source and deploy new cloud locations extremely quickly, with minimal investment," he said.

Gartner Research VP Chris Wolf, however, had words of caution for VMware as well as partner providers. "VMware needs to be transparent with provider partners about where it will leave them room to innovate. Of course, partners must remember that VMware reserves the right to change its mind as the market evolves, thus potentially taking on value adds that it originally left to its partners. SP partners are in a tough spot. VMware has brought many of them business, and they have to consider themselves at a crossroads," he wrote.

Indeed, VMware's foray into the hybrid cloud world isn't sitting well with all of its partners. Tom Nats, managing partner at VMware service provider Bit Refinery, told CRN that the vCloud Hybrid Service is not a welcome development. "Many partners have built up [their infrastructure] and stayed true to VMware, and now all of a sudden we are competing with them," he said.

As to customers: Will they feel comfortable with entrusting their cloud efforts in part to VMware and in part to one or more VMWare partners? Building and managing a cloud is complex enough without adding new parties into the mix. One reason Amazon Web Services has proven such a successful public cloud offering is that they fall under the purview of one entity. When a problem arises, there's just one entity to call and one throat to choke. Under VMWare's hybrid cloud model, customers may need to scrutinize SLAs carefully to determine which party would be responsible for which instances of downtime. Meanwhile, VMWare would have to be vigilant in ensuring that its partners were all running their respective clouds properly.

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