At the Partner Exchange conference in 2013, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said “a workload goes to Amazon, you lose, and we have lost forever.” Emboldened by his fearless leader, VMware President and COO Carl Eschenbach went on to say “I find it really hard to believe that we cannot collectively beat a company that sells books.”
Fast forward to October 2016, and Pat Gelsinger again took the stage to announce the coming availability of VMware Cloud Foundation to enable to the use of vSphere on public cloud vendors, with the initial partner being IBM Softlayer. A few weeks after that, the partnership of VMware and AWS was publicly announced. So does that mean VMware is conceding defeat? Has VMware lost itself? The once great titan brought low by a “mere” purveyor of books.
Unpacking the Solution
Alright, so what does this crazy solution look like? While the program is in beta, and details are still sketchy, here’s what we know so far. The solution will be hosted on bare-metal in AWS datacenters. This will not be a multi-tenant, nested virtualization model. Instead, each ESXi server in your hosted VMware environment will be running on a bare-metal server. Although it has not yet been clarified, it seems safe to assume that VSAN will be providing the underlying storage for the environment and NSX will run the network overlay. At VMWorld US, VMware demonstrated running NSX natively in AWS, so take that as a precursor to the partnership announcement. For the moment, it looks like AWS will be providing servers, power, and networking; but VMware will be managing the host configuration and software patching.
That leaves a lot of questions unanswered, especially around how other AWS services might tie into the solution. For instance, can I use AWS Direct Connect to establish an MPLS connection to my hosted vSphere environment? Will I be able to integrate other AWS offerings, such as Elastic Load Balancers or S3 storage into the hosted vSphere environment? What about my existing VPCs, can those be peered with my hosted vSphere? Part of what makes AWS so sticky are all of its excellent offerings that lock you into their proprietary way of doing things. If you want to expand out of IaaS into PaaS, then how that integrates into VMware on AWS is a big deal. Right now, there are more questions than answers.
An even larger question is why. Why is VMware partnering with their sworn enemy? Why is AWS partnering with a traditional on-premise solution? Who is benefiting from this arrangement? Who is Keyser Soze?! No one knows, well except for the last one, SPOILER ALERT it was Kevin Spacey all along. We can only speculate on the rest.
VMware has more or less admitted that the vSphere revenue is flat or starting to decline. It would seem obvious that VMware should be able to build a compelling public cloud offering based on their success in the private space, but sadly their attempts to do that have fallen flat. vCloud is basically a flop, and people have voted with their dollars. AWS, Azure, and GCE rule the public cloud roost, and somehow VMware got outmaneuvered. That is part of why VMware has jumped on the opportunity to expand in other directions, such as NSX, VSAN, and Workspace ONE. But they would still like their core vSphere business to grow into the public cloud, and now they have the chance through partnerships with IBM and AWS, and Cloud Foundation to tie it together. VMware is the de facto virtualization standard in the Enterprise, and while that is starting to shift in some more nimble organizations, most companies feel comfortable and safe running vSphere for their local needs. Now that public cloud is reaching a state of maturity, VMware is banking on enterprise customers taking the old with the new and marrying them together in a hosted vSphere environment.
AWS, on the other hand, is the 800lb. gorilla of the public cloud market. The only time they deem to mention on-premise is in regards to migrating off it. AWS has largely based its growth off shadow IT, start-ups, and developers who don’t give a fig about corporate policies or where their application is hosted. AWS made it easy for all of them, and the tremendous growth of AWS is proof positive that they have been successful. But what’s that? In the distance? A rival appears in the rear-view mirror and it’s Azure. While AWS was snapping up the hip crowd, Microsoft built itself a fine empire on the backs of Enterprise Agreements and funded engagements with corporate enterprise IT. Traditional shops that shied away from AWS, were enticed to try Azure for free and comforted that it was good-ole-Microsoft, a brand they know and trust. Now Azure is starting to go after the hip crowd of Linux developers and corporate scamps with their Microsoft <3 Linux campaign and attempts to embrace the open source community. AWS may not be scared, but it is certainly aware of Azure, and a partnership with VMware now provides a different path for corporate enterprise IT to join the public cloud while continuing to use a solution they know and trust.
I’m sure that’s not the whole of it, but those reasons alone provide pretty solid ground for this marriage of convenience between what were once two bitter rivals. It ain’t pretty, but compromise seldom is. I expect the real gauntlet to be thrown down next year when VMware on AWS and Azure Stack both hit general availability.
Director, Cloud Solutions and Microsoft MVP: Cloud (Azure/Azure Stack) & DC Mgmt
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