CIOs embrace hybrid cloud and software-defined data centers

CIOs say they are purchasing VMware virtualization software to support mobile applications and content for rapidly scaling computing environments.

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DirecTV CIO Mike Benson (left) and VMware president and COO Carl Eschenbach.

Credit: Clint Boulton

SAN FRANCISCO – Companies building mobile and Web applications to support their digital businesses depend on a mix of private and public clouds to exchange data, said Bill Fathers, VMware's executive vice president and general manager of cloud services, at the company’s VMworld customer event here Monday.

Fathers said companies are struggling to deal with a "fundamental shift in application deployment patterns,” That's forced CIOs to think about "network architecture and data residency." In short: how data is moving back and forth between various on-premises systems and cloud environments the apps connect to. VMware is aiming to address these challenges with its unified hybrid cloud, which includes server, storage and network resources designed to enable companies to run any application on any device. The company announced several new software products in support of this initiative.

VMware made its name selling server virtualization software, which allows companies to run multiple instances of an operating system on servers, a major shift from the traditional one-OS-per-box approach. Virtualized computing is the hallmark of today’s Web-scale cloud environments, which use commodity servers and software to address spikes in demand. Thanks to considerable internal development, a talent infusion and acquisitions, VMware has extended its automation technologies to storage and the network, offering a software-defined data center that is intended to compete with public cloud services from Amazon Web Services and others.

VMware gains trust among CIOs seeking hybrid clouds

The hybrid cloud approach appealed to Mike Benson, CIO of DirecTV, who began using VMware in 2008 to virtualize servers. DirecTV has since incorporated VMware storage and network virtualization. Benson said DirecTV must plan for massive spikes in content demand for such things as boxing fights and professional football via TVs as well as computers, smartphones and tablets. He supports this content with a mixed bag of private, public and hybrid cloud services. "Unified hybrid cloud is our strategy," Benson said during the general session. "We've moved from manual, rigid delivery to software-friendly delivery."

[Related: Google gives VMware huge public cloud boost ]

"Software-friendly delivery" is essentially a software-defined data center, which enables companies to provision virtual compute, storage and network capabilities automatically rather than setting up equipment and installing software on it. Such software cuts provisioning time for days and weeks to seconds, and is a big selling point for VMware's unified hybrid cloud strategy.

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VMware's software-defined data center. (Click for larger image.)

CIOs such as Tribune Media's David Giambruno finds this approach is liberating. In 2014, the media company split into Tribune Media and Tribune Publishing. Giambruno remained with Tribune Media, the parent company, but the publishing spinoff took all of the infrastructure with it, leaving him with the daunting task of standing up a new IT environment to support more than 200 applications and 7,000 employees. "I wanted to take the infrastructure out of the way, and let people do whatever business process transactions they require on any device," Giambruno told CIO.com yesterday.

Giambruno said he used VMware's software to virtualize 1,200 virtual machines, supported on 70 physical servers, which he says allowed him to easily move applications between the organization as needed. "It's way simpler bringing up new infrastructure and copying my apps [virtually] rather than picking up literally thousands of servers and moving them [to the new company]," Giambruno said. He also virtualized the network, and later, the storage capabilities, all of which are supported by a lean IT staff of 43 people.

[Related: An Inside Look into VMware’s New Hybrid Cloud Strategy]

The VMware system then senses when compute, storage and network capabilities are reaching their capacity threshold and emails and administrators, who then approve the provisioning of new resources. The system does the rest. Giambruno calls it a software-defined data center. But it's also a hybrid cloud, connecting with human resources software such as Workday and budget forecasting software from Anaplan, among other software-as-a-service providers Giambruno uses to operate the business. "It's what I call indiscriminate computing; my ability to move my assets wherever but maintain security and availability," he said.

Plenty of clouds to go around

Giambruno and Benson are outliers. The majority of CIOs are still struggling with integrating various components of on-premises, private cloud and public cloud solutions and haven't committed to a software-defined data center. VMware must also contend with competition from public cloud providers such as AWS, which has made it simple for anyone from marketing heads to developers to purchase compute resources with a credit card. Netflix, Airbnb, the CIA and other high-profile organizations run large portions of their businesses on AWS, which reported revenues of $5.97 billion for fiscal year 2015.

VMware is confident that there is room for multiple cloud providers, particularly those that can help them build software defined data centers in which the infrastructure can be programmed on the fly rather than manually set up and installed. But it marks a cultural shift that's not going to happen overnight, Chris Wolf, vice president and CTO of Americas, told CIO.com. "There's going to be some resistance and it's going to feel a little uncomfortable for the average technologist in the trenches, but they're going to look back and say 'Why did we ever do it that way?.'"

[ Related: Despite new public cloud offerings, VMware still playing catch-up ]

With business increasingly relying on Web and mobile applications to serve their customers, VMware has the opportunity to add new levels of efficiency at the server, network and storage layers, says IDC analyst Matt Eastwood. "They're going to grow by taking share from traditional hardware infrastructure providers."

It’s still early days in this journey. But with CIOs still struggling with how to build their digital businesses, it’s incumbent on VMware and other infrastructure companies explain why a software-defined data center supporting a hybrid cloud is preferable, he said.

This story, "CIOs embrace hybrid cloud and software-defined data centers" was originally published by CIO.

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