I like the concept of VMware's vCloud Air service—the company's public cloud offering. In theory, it's low-hanging fruit for existing customers wanting to build a hybrid cloud. From a high-level, an existing VMware customer installs the vCloud Director Connector, sets up a vCloud Air account, and they're up and running with an expanded data center.
vCloud Air supports the common cloud use case of an organization looking to use a pure public cloud strategy for their infrastructure. It's this use case that I put to test.
Signing up for a vCloud Air account is rather painless. If you have an existing VMware.com account, the two accounts are associated. At the time of this writing, VMware even offers $300 in credits for setting up a new account, which I took advantage of. As a point of reference, $300 is enough money to run a very small VM for a few months.
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Under the hood of vCloud Air is VMware vSphere 5.5. The latest version of vSphere is 6.0, however, vSphere 5.5 is a rock-solid and feature rich version of vSphere. I'm reasonably confident that workloads would run stable once deployed on the platform. Deploying workloads may be a tougher challenge, though.
Setting up a data center
If you are familiar with vSphere, then how vCloud Air is organized will feel comfortable. vCloud Air has the concept of an organization and, within an organization, are vCloud regions. The regions are predefined based on vCloud physical data centers. Under the data center, you can create one or more virtual data centers (VDC).
The VDC holds all of the virtual resources such as networks and virtual machines. One of the primary selling points of vCloud Air is the robust network features. In conversations with VMware last year, there were plans to release major integrations with VMware NSX. The concept was to allow organizations to create a seamless infrastructure between the public and private cloud.
With the power of the network platform comes a minimum level of networking knowledge. I gave the environment over to my son who is a computer science major. There's a simple right-click option to connect a VM to the internet. It failed for his VM which required me to go in and manually set up NAT and firewall rules. The inconsistent experience of functioning features is where I ran into most challenges.
Deploying a VM
You have two options for deploying a VM, including selecting from a range of pre-built workloads. When selecting a pre-built image, I found the deployment experience simple and reliable. There are a serviceable number of options for pre-built images. Solutions such as Azure and AWS have a much broader number of available workloads.
Where vCloud should shine compared to other solutions is where I had the most trouble. With the lack of options for pre-built images, it's likely you will need to upload a custom image. VMware has added drag and drop VM upload functionality in its desktop virtualization solutions VMware Workstation and VMware Fusion.
I created a custom Windows Server 2016 Preview 4 image and tried to upload the image from both Workstation and Fusion. The upload failed repeatedly. To eliminate my home network as an issue, I connected from an alternate corporate location and experienced the same issues.
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Alternatively, VMware provides a command-line tool called OVFTOOL to upload images. I ran into the same challenges with the command-line tool as I did with the integrated desktop options. Out of approximately 20 upload attempts, each attempt failed between 1% and 11% completion.
I found the navigation of the web-based interface intuitive based on my years of experience with vSphere. Unfortunately, I also found the interface extremely buggy. At times, the VDC information would not populate. I'd find random artifacts such as log error messages on screens that weren't designed to show the intended message.
Another example of interface management challenges was found in the inability to upload an ISO disk file or VM via the web interface. There's an option to perform the action but I received an error that my browser no longer supported the function. I tried performing the action with Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 10, and Safari—all of which failed.
I like the concept of vCloud Air. However, for the use case of a headless data center, the service feels much more like a beta offering than a production ready solution. VMware recently announced reorganizations that included the vCloud Air team. If my experience is indicative of production customer experiences it would explain the repositioning and overall lack of traction.
What do you think?
I'd like to hear your feedback. Have you tried vCloud Air? Share your experience in the comments section below.
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Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fortune 500 organizations. He holds a BA in computing and a MS in information technology from DePaul University.