Run any workload on any device on any cloud. That's a paraphrase of VMware's tagline introduced in 2016, and sounds too good to be true. It's a visionary statement and today it isn't possible.
However, there's value in understanding how VMware's "any, any, any" vision maps to products. The strategy revolves around end-user computing, and private and public cloud integrations. Here are the three pillars of the firm's public and private cloud strategy.
1. vSphere at the core
The vision begins with VMware vSphere. VMware has 500,000 enterprise customers that have a significant investment in vSphere, and competitors haven't been able to unseat VMware from its perch atop of the hypervisor market.
Much of VMware vSphere's position of strength originates from the ecosystem of operation processes and products that center around vCenter. For these infrastructure-focused customers, there's significant appeal to keep vSphere and, therefore, the VM central to the standard operating model for both private and public cloud.
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During VMworld 2016, VMware announced a partnership with IBM Cloud based on VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF). VCF is an architecture that enables seamless operations between on-premises vSphere and VCF-based cloud providers, which include more than 4000 partners today. VCF also formed the foundation for VMware Cloud on AWS, which leverages VMware's vSphere suite and AWS' massive data center footprint.
I call this approach vSphere Everywhere. It solves an operational concern for vSphere-based operators wanting to extend to the cloud. However, it leaves a gap for cloud-native applications. Applications based on cloud-native solutions such as serverless don't translate to this architecture. Similarly, the requirement to run vSphere in a hyperscaler's data center may be a non-starter for providers such as Microsoft Azure and Google.
2. Pivotal Cloud Foundry
Pivotal is a sister company to VMware in the Dell Technologies portfolio of companies. Pivotal leverages the open source Platform as a Service (PaaS) project Cloud Foundry (CF) to provide the cloud-native capability. Pivotal is what's called an opinionated PaaS. The approach means that Pivotal makes design decisions that customers may not choose.
One such decision is the approach to services such as serverless. If customers want serverless capability, they must take Pivotal's approach. But, Pivotal CF provides a fast on-ramp to building cloud-native applications that provide portability across problem clouds.
Pivotal CF installs on-cloud virtual machine instances. Therefore, there is no requirement that VMware or Pivotal have a direct relationship with the cloud provider. The only requirement is that the platform exists on the virtual infrastructure of the public or private cloud provider.
3. VMware NSX
NSX is the third pillar of VMware's any app, any cloud vision. VMware NSX, which brings your data center network design to the public cloud, comes in two flavors. The first is NSX (formerly NSX-V). NSX is the vSphere-native version of the product. There's seamless integration between on-premises installations of NSX and cloud providers leveraging the VCF architecture—including VMware Cloud on AWS.
NSX-T is the second flavor of NSX. NSX-T is available to private cloud platforms outside of VMware vSphere. For public cloud, NSX-T offers micro-code that installs on public cloud VM instances. This model allows cloud architects to create a network overlay inside a public cloud provider. The design results in a virtual network that looks identical to the private data center. The design results in the ability to share network products and operations between private and public cloud.
Cloud-native becomes another gap in the operating model. Today, NSX isn't capable of integrating with services such as Lambda and S3. Instead, NSX is more of an OS-centric view of networking.
VMware has said it desires to support more hyperscale cloud providers. In my discussions with the various product teams, there's an awareness of the existing limitations of the vision. According to these product managers, VMware has an unpublished roadmap to support cloud-native applications to deliver on the any workload, any cloud vision.
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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.