An inside look into VMware's new hybrid Cloud strategy

A detailed look at VMware's newest strategy, complete with analysis from experts.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

During the past week VMware has been making power play moves in the Cloud computing market to position its offering as the premier enterprise hybrid Cloud computing platform. As it does so, however, analysts question how well the grand plan VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger has put together stacks up with heavyweights of the cloud computing market, most specifically Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

VMware has thrown down the gauntlet recently, with new versions of its popular vSphere virtualization platform, cutting-edge software defined networking (SDN) capabilities, an integration with the open source cloud management platform OpenStack and a blockbuster partnership with Google's Cloud Platform. VMware is making moves to redefine itself as a major player in the Cloud computing market. The question is now, will it work?

+ MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: Q&A with VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger describes "one cloud, any app, any device" plan +

The strength of VMware's approach to the Cloud market stems from its stronghold in compute virtualization technology, which the company pioneered with its ESX hypervisor in the early 2000s. IDC estimated two years ago that VMware has more than 50 per cent share in the compute virtualization market. VMware is using its dominant position to make the argument that enterprise IT buyers should turn their virtual environments into private clouds using the company's vRealize Management software.

VMware is hoping that as customers look to off-premises public Cloud options that they will stick with VMware. Last year the company rolled out vCloud Air, a public Cloud. VMware is making the case that customers can chose VMware for both their private and public Clouds. This hybrid Cloud strategy is summed up by CEO Pat Gelsinger as: "One Cloud, any app, any device."

VMware isn't just talking in broad strokes about the strategy, it has tangible products it will deliver to customers. Over the past week VMware has announced major updates to many of them, including:

-vSphere 6: The latest significant update to the company's core virtualization platform includes 650 new features, including the ability to do live migration of VMs over long distances; instant cloning and provisioning of thousands of VMs at a time; and support for 3D NVIDIA graphics processors. These advancements are meant to position vSphere as a platform that can run both scale up applications, like SAP HANA, and scale-out applications like Hadoop. vSphere 6 Standard starts at $995 per CPU.

-Virtual SAN 6: An update to the virtual storage array with increased scalability and performance features, including an all-flash architecture and the ability to scale up to 64 nodes per cluster and process 7 million inputs and outputs per second (IOPS). New Virtual Volumes feature allows vSAN to be "VM-aware," meaning it can be set to automatically provision capacity and data to VMs as needed. It's priced at $2,495 per CPU or $50 per user.

-VMware Integrated OpenStack: VMware has taken the open source code for cloud platform project OpenStack and made a free add-on to vSphere generally available that will allow an OpenStack cloud to be stood up and managed with VMware tools.

-NSX on vCloudAir: NSX is VMware's SDN product that allows for new networks to be spun up and down similar to how VMs are in vSphere. Doing so not only brings speed and agility to network management, but also allows security and firewall settings to be granularly controlled on those networks. VMware announced that its public cloud platform named vCloudAir will offer NSX features later this year.

-Partnership with Google: VMware and Google announced a partnership that will allow customers to use the vCloudAir public cloud portal to provision certain Google Cloud Platform features, such as scalable object storage, databases and a DNS.

It could be helpful to think about these news items in two major categories, suggests Forrester analyst Dave Bartoletti. The updates to vSphere and vSAN appeal to VMware's core customers. "Enhancing vSphere keeps VMware out front of the compute virtualization pack, and enhancing storage and networking options extends their value to more data center resources," Bartoletti says. "That's VMware building on its strengths and offering more for its traditional data center buyers." VMware is showing customers that even as they explore new workloads like NoSQL databases and Hadoop deployments that tools like vSphere can still be used.

The other announcements - the Google partnership, the NSX/vCloudAir integrations and the OpenStack deployment - are all about next-generation, cloud-first applications, says Gary Chen, an analyst with IDC. In this market, VMware will have an uphill battle.

One of Gelsinger's strongest points for VMware is the common management platform that customers get to use between their private and public clouds. Chen says that is helpful for customers who may want to back up their disaster recovery site to vCloudAir, for example.

But a company like Microsoft has an equally appealing message for enterprise users. The combination of Microsoft's Systems Center private cloud platform and Azure public cloud is already established in the market as a hybrid cloud and will likely be VMware's biggest competition. VMware's new partnership with Google immediately added some important features and functionality to VMware's public cloud strategy though.

+MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: Google gives VMware's cloud a big boost +

Gelsinger is still confident in VMware though because he says the company has other unique differentiators. Perhaps most exciting, he says, is the NSX features. Gelsinger argues that no other company has as strong network management technology, which he says is critical for a smooth cloud deployment. "The hybrid networking aspect of this announcement is really I'll say the magic that allows this true on and off-premise ability of the hybrid cloud to function," Gelsinger told Network World.

It's early on in the adoption of SDN technologies though, which Forrester analyst James Staten says will limit the importance of that being a market differentiator for VMware. "NSX definitely has the potential to be a major differentiator," he says, but Microsoft and Amazon have advanced networking capabilities as well, so it will be important for VMware to prove the value of this functionality in a public cloud setting.

The overall message from VMware is that it is attempting to diversify beyond its strength in the compute virtualization market and be a platform that can handle both existing workloads and new ones that enterprise IT shops explore. Chen doesn't expect many customers to go all-in with one vendor and one cloud though. It will be a multi-cloud world for the foreseeable future where customers go with a best of breed technology. VMware will therefore not capture all of the workloads that are going to the cloud. But, Chen says VMware is increasingly making it harder to not consider the company seriously among the top players in the cloud industry.

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