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VMware cloud initiative raises vendor lock-in concerns

Rival vendors claim cloud services should be hypervisor-agnostic

By , Network World
September 02, 2009 11:45 PM ET

Network World - VMware talks a good game about interoperability, but its cloud initiative threatens to introduce a type of vendor lock-in that rival virtualization vendors claim they would not impose.

While competitors Citrix and Microsoft have embraced the notion of supporting multiple virtualization platforms with their software, VMware has long maintained that its management tools will support only its own hypervisor. Now its growing cloud initiative, highlighted at this week’s VMworld conference, depends upon customers and vendors using its vSphere virtualization platform, which could prevent true cloud interoperability.

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When VMware unveiled its cloud initiative for service providers last year, 100 vendors had signed up. Today more than 1,000 service providers worldwide are on board, providing cloud-based computing services based upon vSphere. AT&T, Savvis, Terremark and Verizon Business are just a few examples.

VMware’s service provider program highlights one of the key goals of the cloud computing movement: that IT shops should be able to host workloads either in their own data centers or externally with a cloud provider, and have the ability to quickly move those workloads from one location to another and manage them all from the same pane of glass.

VMware is promising this capability -- but only in cases in which both the customer and the service provider are using vSphere.

Competitors claim this limitation is unacceptable, and say that virtual machines should have the benefits of mobility no matter what hypervisor the customer or cloud vendor uses.

VMware officials contend they are trying to promote open standards by submitting their own vCloud API to the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), in an effort to promote interoperability among public cloud platforms. VMware CTO Stephen Herrod said VMware submitted the API to DMTF because the company wants a “broad ecosystem of compatible clouds,” even including those not running VMware software. But vCloud is still a VMware-centric API, at least until other hypervisor vendors start using it, says Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

“In terms of VMware, sure they talk about choice,” Wolf says. “But the choice is really of service provider platforms, not of the virtual infrastructure. So you are locking yourself into a proprietary virtual infrastructure.”

The vCloud API can only become “an open standard when there are multiple vendor implementations,” Wolf continues. “Otherwise the vCloud API is marketing.”

VMware officials say customers won’t be locked into VMware-based clouds, with CEO Paul Maritz stressing the importance of avoiding a “Hotel California” scenario where “you can check applications into the cloud, but you can’t check them out.”

Wolf says customers may still have trouble moving applications out of VMware-based clouds, although the same could be said of many cloud services.

“It’s easy on the surface to say ‘you can move the VM to somewhere else,’” Wolf says. “Sure, but what about all of the storage? I might have terabytes of storage that are attached to a single cloud provider and that could be extremely problematic.”

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