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VMware Takes on Hybrid Clouds and PaaS

By March 23, 2011Article

VMware has been steadily moving up the value chain towards platforms and application development in the cloud over the past couple of years. The most recent acquisition of Wavemaker is yet another strategic move by VMware to bolster its Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) portfolio. What makes the VMware PaaS play unique is that it is based entirely on open-source model — both Spring Source and Wavemaker are based on open source. Spring Source is more geared towards professional Java developers while Wavemaker is targeted towards more mainstream Java developers who can build Java apps dramatically faster with drag-and-drop functionality and without any knowledge of the underlying infrastructure.

To realize its PaaS and Hybrid cloud vision, VMware needs to deliver the underlying components of the infrastructure — compute, storage, data, and networks — as services to application developers as well as to the IT people.

The management of the underlying infrastructure must span across multiple datacenter and cloud domains as this hybrid model will become the dominant model in the next several years.

VMWare is making a strong move into hybrid clouds with the recent announcement of a free cloud connector plug-in. This will allow many enterprises to link their internal and public clouds as long they are running vSphere and are working with VMware certified cloud service providers who are also running vSphere Director. The certification guarantees that the service provider supports the OVF (Open Virtualizaion Format ) and that they have implemented the vCloud API correctly. Three companies have been first to be certified under this program: BlueLock, Colt, and Verizon.

I spoke last month with Shekar Ayyar, VP of corporate strategy at VMware about the company’s cloud strategy and approach to hybrid clouds and Platform-as-a-Service.

Here’s a brief excerpt from that conversation:

What is VMware’s vision for hybrid clouds?

Shekar Ayyar: Public clouds enable consumerization of IT and agility with which people can access IT resources. Private clouds provide better security, compliance, and integration of resources within the data center. At VMware, we are focused on bringing the agility of public clouds to the private clouds and the security and integration of private clouds to the public clouds.

Our vision of the hybrid cloud is that it will provide seamless integration and mobility of applications and data across private and public clouds. Today, given the bandwidth constraints and latency concerns, not all applications are suitable for a hybrid deployment.

Applications need to be architected for a hybrid cloud so they can scale out across the boundaries of multiple clouds.

What we fundamentally believe is that applications need to be built so that they can “move” from one cloud to another easily.

When we talk about “mobility,” we mean more than simply a VMotion kind of mobility. We are talking about it in a broader sense. As an example, a customer may decide to develop an application in-house and then deploy it on a public cloud or build an application in the cloud but wants to bring it back to their datacenter for a variety of reasons. This needs to happen easily, seamlessly, and securely.

Another common use case for hybrid clouds is the ability to “burst” out to public clouds when there is a need for more capacity based on peak resource demands. We have seen several customers use this model. To be clear, this is still very early and there are not many service providers who can provide credible burst capacity.

The movement today is clearly towards private clouds where enterprise customers are building self-service and agility capabilities to their existing data centers.

The first step in that journey is to virtualize their data centers and many companies are well on their way in this journey albeit at varying levels of completion. Our goal and nirvana is when enterprise customers and cloud service providers tell us that they have a well-operated cloud environment that is lower cost than their physical environment.

The advantage we have is that nearly 80 percent of virtualizable workloads out there are already running on VMware environments and so the next step to a private and hybrid cloud is a lot easier for our existing customers.

VMWare is aggressively building development platforms for the cloud. What are you seeing in terms of adoption today and where does the future hold for PaaS?

Shekar Ayyar: It is certainly in its infancy. Most of what we see out there are toy applications, not production applications. However, we believe it will become main stream at some point in the future.

At VMware, we are investing in middleware services (data management grids, rapid messaging etc) that our own platforms and other platforms can consume. In fact, some cloud platforms out there are already consuming these middle ware services as part of their architecture. We are also pulling a number of other components such as the Spring Source dev environments, app servers, performance and monitoring tools etc together into our next generation application platform called vFabric. We believe that together this bundle of components and middleware services will be an attractive value proposition for customers to consume internally or from an external cloud.

What is VMWare’s strategy for working with cloud service providers?

Shekar Ayyar: We will play an active role enabling cloud service providers so they can offer credible infrastructure and application platforms to their enterprise customers with high levels of security and affordability. This will in turn enable customers to consider these offerings not just for experimental workloads but also for mission-critical production workloads. We are already seeing instances today where our customers have identified workloads that will take advantage of external clouds for burst capacity.

However, this “bursting” process is not yet completely automated and dynamic, but it is certainly the beginnings of what a hybrid cloud will look like.

Essentially, we are taking a multi-provider strategy. We are making environments available through different service providers who can then differentiate themselves either by providing services for different class of applications developers, different programming languages, or different SLAs etc.

For example, you can use sales force to deploy your Java application using their vmForce environment or you could go to another service provider who is more vertically focused around a particular industry.

Our business model is therefore very dependent on us creating an ecosystem of cloud service providers who will adopt our cloud stack from the virtualization layer on up to the platform and to the applications on top.

Does VMWare plan to play in the cloud applications space?

Shekar Ayyar: As you may know, we began this journey with the acquisition of Zimbra. We have a long-term cloud applications strategy where we will provide applications that are desirable to our customers in a SaaS model with our service providers supporting those customers.

In particular, we are looking at connection points to our business in end-user computing. For example, we look at applications that will be needed as desktops and mobile environments converge and how does that lead to more adoption of the underlying application platform and the core infrastructure platform as well. We are looking at these upper layers to supplement and feed into the decisions that customers are making about their infrastructure. We are looking at solutions in all of these areas collectively. These solutions will be made available through the service provider channels I described earlier.

What is VMware doing in the database and storage area?

Shekar Ayyar: As our platform matures, there will be discussions around what we provide as a core and what the environments will provide. Today, we don’t have a Database-as-a-Service. A lot of our focus is on enabling the vFabric framework to accommodate other database and storage services as they evolve to become credible offerings in the marketplace.

Service providers can choose the best-of-breed database and storage solutions and provide them for consumptions to their customers.

Kamesh Pemmaraju heads cloud research at Sand Hill Group.  Follow him on Twitter @kpemmaraju.