I’ve heard some people say public clouds are a lot like the Eagles' Hotel California—“you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Indeed, many customers I’ve talked to about their use of public cloud services say once they start using a cloud service, they’re locked into that specific provider with no ability to move data or workloads from cloud to cloud.
At the VMworld 2016 keynote, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger told the 23,000 attendees one of the challenges with public cloud is that customers today have tremendous control over the use of cloud, but they lack the freedom to move stuff between clouds. In a sense, what customers have today is a number of discrete cloud deployments rather than a real cloud strategy.
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To give customers the elusive combination of control and freedom with the necessary security required to protect the business and its customers, VMware announced its Cross-Cloud Architecture. The architecture is built on VMware’s Cloud Foundation, a package that includes vSphere, Virtual SAN, NSX and SDDC manager. The initial release will come later this quarter and will be available for vSphere as well as IBM’s public cloud, with support for other clouds coming at a later date.
The vision of cross-cloud makes sense because customers I’ve talked to want to utilize multiple clouds much the same way they used multiple operating systems in the previous era of computing. One question that kept coming up in the analyst track at VMworld was, do customers really want to use VMware to enable cross-cloud functionality? VMware has a great brand and base of engineers that love their products, but it historically hasn’t been public-cloud relevant.
I asked VMware about this pivot, and the answer I got was that VMware helped customers simplify data centers by creating an abstraction layer that sits above the operating system. Hypervisors let customers use Unix, Windows, Linux or any number of other operating systems and then standardize on a virtual machine.
Similarly, VMware is working towards creating an abstraction layer that enables customers to use Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Google Cloud Platform or whatever their favorite cloud is. It seems like a similar challenge, and perhaps their success of the past combined with their huge base of engineers will lead to VMware being the neutral platform that enables a world of multi-hybrid clouds.
If that is to be the case, then they need to accelerate their pace of innovation. In Gelsinger’s keynote address he mentioned that it would be 14 years before public cloud is dominant, so taking an on-premises-first approach is best for customers. In my opinion, 14 years is much too long of a time frame. I agree that private data centers aren’t going away any time soon, but the likes of Azure and AWS are making it easier and cheaper to use their services and we will see more and more workloads move to the cloud at an accelerated pace.
VMware’s vision is right—the world is moving to the cloud, and connecting and securing cloud resources will be a problem. The company’s brand, install base and cult-like following from its engineers give it a real shot at being a hybrid cloud enabler, but it needs to operate at an accelerated pace.