I had the pleasure and unique perspective of attending VMworld 2016 as a neutral, independent observer last week. This was my 10th VMworld, the first 7 attended as a VMware CTO. It was certainly different and refreshing to listen to the announcements and messaging without having the detailed backstory behind everything. There have been a variety of different opinions published on the show, but count me among the underwhelmed.
Center stage for the main keynote was dominated by the announcement of VMware’s Cross Cloud Architecture. It’s no secret that VMware has had an ever-changing cloud story. This time they are pivoting to trying to be a bridge between the enterprise or private cloud and the major public clouds. As has been reported elsewhere, this seems to be both a nod to market reality as well as an expression of defeat. VMware should have been able to leverage their on-premise franchise to public/hybrid cloud dominance, but somewhat surprisingly Microsoft rose from the ashes to successfully execute that strategy with its Azure offering while VMware largely floundered.
I viewed this latest announcement as featuring a myopic VMware-centric point of view, ignoring a lot of what is really happening in the cloud world. Companies of all sizes are questioning their data center and IT investments like never before. But they are not just questioning the hardware costs, i.e. whether or not they should migrate an on-premise application to a cloud hosted opex model. The big picture is that IT exists to deliver and care for business applications and in today’s environment if a particular application does not strategically differentiate a company or is not part of the core service they are selling, then that application will not just be re-hosted in the cloud via an IaaS offering, but will more likely be replaced all together with a SaaS-based service. Over time, this will dramatically shrink the applications that IT hosts and manages. What’s left are the applications with strategic business value and those will be mixed between on-premise and cloud based execution. This trend is not great news for VMware’s traditional TAM.
While we’re on the topic, there seems to be an assumption that public and private clouds are very similar and are different sides of the same coin. However, I wanted to point out that there is what has been to date an unbridgeable difference – private cloud just can’t offer the consumption based pricing of public cloud. With private cloud, there’s really only one customer and that customer needs to have enough hardware available to handle simultaneous peak loads. The hardware cost can’t be amortized over numerous customers as in the public cloud. Now theoretically for a purely stateless, scale-out app, one can scale out across a hybrid cloud, but I think practically speaking that is rather rare.
VMware will clearly continue to be the platform to host on-premise legacy applications for a long time, but let’s talk about the strategic apps that will not be replaced by a general SaaS service. VMware is fundamentally an infrastructure driven company and in the cloud this means IaaS enabling technologies. The trouble is that public cloud means so much more than just IaaS! SDDC with automation is one core component, a necessary base layer, but there are other major pieces. Firstly, cloud is about more efficiently building and delivering the next generation of applications and services. This means microservices-based architectures, containers, and applications leveraging PaaS services as middleware. This is the way new applications are being constructed and I don’t see these application-centric technologies spanning clouds between vSphere and non-vSphere environments.
With this lens, let’s examine the VMware Cross-Cloud initiative. Since there were close to no details in the keynote, I attended a session led by Chris Wolf (@CSWolf), former Gartner honcho and now VMware’s Field CTO for the Americas. Chris gave more details and showed a middle tier, cloud-spanning layer of management with familiar labels like Data & Governance, Networking and Security, Management and Automation but followed that up with separate, independent consoles for each cloud instance on top of it. He talked about how AWS is moving so fast with adding new capabilities that it’s just too difficult to keep up with a single management pane of glass. Well, just because VMware hasn’t figured out how to execute on it doesn’t mean customers don’t want it! VMware’s cross-cloud architecture seems to be geared towards overlaying vRA capabilities for IaaS management onto AWS/Azure/Google and leaving out anything that doesn’t fit that mold.
VMware also talked about the “VMware Cloud Foundation.” This looked to me like a new brand name for the vSphere SDDC suite of technologies – ESX hypervisor, VSAN, NSX, vCenter and the vRA management suite. These technologies dominate the on-premise, enterprise cloud and are the de-facto standard for private clouds. However, the big public clouds are not based on the vSphere hypervisor and hence technologies that are tightly integrated with it are not very relevant there. VMware would like NSX in particular to be an exception as it did have its origins at least partially as an Openstack project, however when I questioned how this will run on non-vSphere clouds, I got a response about NSX components having to be loaded into the guest OS because in the Amazon infrastructure, the underlying hypervisor is locked down (similarly as vSphere before it, I might add). Well so much for the highly touted efficiency and security benefits of running in the hypervisor! Seems to be more about how to bolt NSX technology on top of AWS networking, not what an ideal, efficient network architecture that spans clouds should be.
So if I was unimpressed by what I saw from my former VMware colleagues, did I see anything at the show that I did like for cross-cloud management? One company that caught my eye was Embotics. They’ve been around since 2006 and Embotics vCommander seems to be an easy-to-use, platform-neutral Cloud Management Platform that can be implemented quickly, easily and non-intrusively. It allows IT organizations to deliver IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) from a single self service console while continuously monitoring resources to optimize the automation, deployment, and configuration of IT services across private, public and hybrid clouds. They’ve done a fine job concentrating on abstracting and delivering the core business agility, IT controls and usability features that corporations need and have done so in a pragmatic, extensive vendor-agnostic way. Check them out here.