Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia
VMware Cloud Foundation 2.3 adds new features that simplify the process of deploying and running a hybrid cloud.
VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) takes two of VMware's fastest growing products -- vSAN and NSX -- bundles them with vSphere and vRealize Suite, and rolls in automation to guarantee VMware customers a smooth cloud deployment experience.
Early releases of VMware Cloud Foundation focused on deploying the hyper-converged vSphere infrastructure with NSX for networking and security. VMware added the ability to implement vRealize Automation (vRA) as part of its software-defined data center (SDDC) to VCF 2.3. VRA elevates the deployed platform to a private cloud and adds end-user self-service capability and automation for operational processes, which makes it more closely resemble a public cloud.
What does VMware Cloud Foundation do?
VCF delivers VMware's SDDC to the cloud without massive implementation projects that span months. Conceptually, VCF has a lot in common with converged infrastructure products, in that it offers a turnkey platform that has a well-defined set of components in a rigidly controlled configuration. VMware tests updates before it releases them to customers, which means the vendor is able to deliver a consistent experience.
The most noticeable difference between VMware Cloud Foundation and older converged infrastructure systems is that it provides more flexible scaling. The user can scale her VCF deployment from as few as four nodes to multiple racks full of servers, with additional servers added over time just like any other hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI).
Deploying an SDDC might not be a business differentiator for VMware's clients, but it is for VMware. VMware Cloud Foundation lowers the barriers to adoption for enterprises that might otherwise buy infrastructure as a service (IaaS) products from a service provider rather than use VMware products.
Customers can use vSAN Ready Nodes or integrated racks from a number of vendors to deploy VCF on premises; buy VCF as a service from public cloud vendors, such as IBM and Rackspace; or purchase VCF direct from VMware as part of VMware Cloud on AWS.
Customers have the option to purchase VCF outright as a Capex and run it either on premises or colocated. If a customer chooses to buy VCF from a service provider, they have the option to purchase a monthly subscription as an operating expense.
VRA makes VCF 2.3 a true cloud platform
VMware Cloud Foundation 2.3 improves flexibility and gives the user the ability to have physical servers that aren't alike, as well as to choose what types of workloads land on different servers. VCF 2.3 also adds the ability to update VCF deployments that can't access the internet and to use ESXi builds optimized by the server hardware vendor. This flexibility makes VCF suitable for more use cases than just those that require a vSphere infrastructure.
Speaking personally, I appreciate that VCF 2.3 enables you to deploy vRA as part of the VCF deployment rather than assuming you already have vRA and leaving you to integrate it with VCF.
Since vRA is VMware's cloud automation platform for enterprise customers, it brings cloud platform capabilities to VMware Cloud Foundation. VRA provides a self-service catalog to businesses and enables IT consumers to spin up VMs in minutes, just as they would on a public cloud. The only limit to public cloud usage is credit card balance; it's easy to spin up VMs and services, and there's often very little control until after a massive bill shock.
Enterprise private clouds operate a bit differently, and so does vRA. VRA sets up approval processes and quotas to guide and control self-service deployment. VRA's service catalog contains not only VMs, but entire application environments with VMs, networking and other dependencies mapped out and automatically configured.
The speculative future of VCF
In the future, I expect that we'll see more cloud platform functionality from VMware Cloud Foundation. VMware Cloud Foundation 2.3 added the ability to deliver an end-user self-service portal; the next version could potentially reduce the amount of work it takes for a customer to achieve IaaS services.
It takes quite a bit of work to tailor vRA to an organization's specifications, create a service catalog and build workflows to match business processes. VMware might consider adding some sort of templating option for common deployments to VCF to expedite vRA configuration and shorten the time to value, as it's already done with the vSphere HCI stack.
As far as anything-as-a-service elements are concerned, Amazon Web Services (AWS) developers use Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances -- AWS' term for VMs -- as a last resort if AWS doesn't have a service that delivers their needs. Few AWS customers use EC2 instances for their load balancer or object storage platform. NSX already offers the load balancer; VMware might consider providing message queuing or database as a service to further expand VCF capabilities.
Pivotal Container Service, a platform for self-service deployment of applications that run in Docker containers, would also be a useful addition to the VMware Cloud Foundation portfolio.