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VMware unveils Cross-Cloud Architecture at VMworld 2016

Cross-Cloud Architecture, VMware's latest attempt at a comprehensive multicloud offering, is largely focused on VMs, which could cause problems going forward.

The dust has settled from VMworld US for another year. What did we get for new products and features? There was no new version of vSphere or any of the other core VMware products. Instead, we got bundles and architecture. The Cloud Foundation bundle is basically vSphere with virtual SAN for storage and NSX for networking. This comes as no surprise, as these are the products that VMware has stated will bring revenue growth, so they need to be easier to sell. At least VMware didn't choose a horrible name for the bundle this time -- the new architecture is called VMware Cross-Cloud Architecture. I hope that VMware is starting down the long road to a real hybrid cloud approach, though I fear that this is another attempt to make hybrid cloud an all VMware offering.

What businesses want

Businesses that I talk to have wanted a workload broker for many years. They want to be able to offer business units the ability to deploy applications on a range of platforms, both on premises and in the cloud.

A complete cross-cloud architecture needs to allow VMware customers to get full value out of each cloud platform.

Businesses want to get the agility of a public cloud deployment for some applications. These same businesses want to have tight control over applications that contain critical data. The hardest part is that they want the full value of each platform, not the lowest common denominator service offering that works the same on every platform.

Most businesses that choose to put workloads in Amazon Web Services (AWS) are not doing so because they can get a virtual machine for 10 cents per hour. Most workloads in AWS are engineered and developed specifically for the AWS platform. The same is true for workloads on the Google Compute Platform (GCP). Deployed application architectures are different on these public clouds.

Ironically, cloud deployments are very similar to on-premises deployments in Azure. Those adopting Azure are more likely to migrate their existing on-premises workloads into Azure because they can migrate without making major architectural changes.

VMware has seen the same behavior for the relatively small number of clients that moved to vCloud Air. Both Azure and vCloud are well-suited to lift and shift migrations, where on-premises VMs are migrated into the cloud. Based on VMware's history, a hybrid cloud is all about where to place your VMs. But that is not how public cloud has been valuable to AWS and GCP customers.

Qualms over Cross-Cloud Architecture

What I don't like about VMware's Cross-Cloud Architecture is that it seems to be focused solely on VMs. This is natural for VMware, as they have had great success with VMs in enterprise data centers. When all you have is a hypervisor, every problem is solved by more VMs.

The Cross-Cloud Architecture makes it easy to deploy some of those VMs on AWS, or other cloud platforms. That's great, but it's just the beginning. A complete cross-cloud architecture needs to allow VMware customers to get full value out of each cloud platform.

Making a broker expose the uniqueness of each cloud is no simple task. Cloud platforms are highly differentiated and services are not directly comparable. The simplest example is that you can run Microsoft SQL Server in many ways, including on premises, as a service on Azure and as a service on AWS. Each platform has a different way to manage database performance and colocation of multiple databases.

Each cloud platform might have options for other kinds of databases; for example, AWS has nearly a dozen database options in its own services. Then databases can be run inside VMs on any platform that lets you run a VM. A more complicated example is a network load balancer. For on-premises deployment, you can have physical or virtual appliances.

Alternatively, you might use network virtualization like VMware NSX. In the cloud, you might use the virtual options, or you might use the cloud platform's own load balancer. To get the most value from a hybrid cloud deployment, you need to choose the appropriate deployment for each platform.

Test your multicloud deployment knowledge

Businesses recognize that the apps and services it needs to function can no longer all run on one platform in a single location. Test your understanding of multicloud deployment.

Planning for the future

So far, Cross-Cloud Architecture seems to treat the non-vSphere platforms as if they are vSphere platforms. Basically, it becomes another place you might run your VMs. As a start, this is okay -- being able to choose from a range of locations when I deploy a VM is good. It's what we expected when VMware acquired DynamicOps back in 2012. The acquisition has resulted in the vRealize Automation (vRA) product. VRA is the heart of the Cross-Cloud Architecture. But VMs are not the answer to every problem.

Businesses want to use the services of each cloud, and VMware needs to extend the Cross-Cloud Architecture to cover the services that each cloud platform offers. I expect that we will see this when VMware has a cloud platform that offers application services. For me, the real question is when VMware will start to offer these services. Maybe Cross-Cloud Architecture is really only marketing aimed at reducing the perceived value of competing cloud offerings. If every cloud is just a place to run your VMs, then the VMware cloud is a great option.

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