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Will VMware Cloud Ever Expand Beyond AWS?

If you've been looking at VMware Cloud on AWS and you're hoping something similar may be offered in Microsoft's Azure or even in Google's or IBM's clouds, don't hold your breath: It isn't going to happen anytime soon.

There's a very simple explanation for this: both VMware and Amazon have discovered that integrating VMware technology with existing public cloud infrastructure is HARD. It requires a lot of work, it requires a lot of learning on the job, and it takes a lot of time to get right. Virtually Speaking

"This is not just something we threw together and put out there," Kit Colbert, head of VMware's Cloud Platform business unit, explained in a recent DataCenter Knowledge interview . "This required actually really deep modifications on both sides."

What kind of modifications? For one thing, Amazon has always built its cloud infrastructure on top of the open source Xen hypervisor, and more recently on the (also open source) KVM hypervisor.

But to offer a VMware cloud it had adapt to VMware's closed-source ESXi hypervisor. And that meant adapting everything in the AWS architecture, including network, security, physical server provisioning, and interaction with EBS (Amazon's Elastic Block Storage), according to the interview.

And you might imagine that VMware would know quite a lot about running its software in the cloud. After all, it had its own hybrid cloud offering called vCloud Air, which was launched in 2013 (as vCloud Hybrid Service) and which it ran until last year when it was flogged off to French cloud provider OVH.

But Colbert said VMware still had a lot of work to do simply learning how to operate in a cloud. This might explain why vCloud Air never turned into the proprietary public cloud that VMware had hoped it would, and why, ultimately, it decided to sell it off.

He also mentioned Amazon's sophisticated approach to capacity planning and profit maximization, which was evidently not something VMware had been doing in its own cloud to any great extent. Amazon's approach enables its engineers to turn on new servers and put them into service as soon as they are racked, according to Colbert. "They're constantly racking servers for EC2; they're very good at this."

Security in the Cloud Still a Concern

One of the biggest concerns for Amazon was security, and how to ensure that its infrastructure was secure when some of the basic software powering its VMware Cloud on AWS offering was VMware's proprietary code and not its own.

"That's actually a huge potential security issue if they didn't lock that down right," Colbert said. "Obviously they trust us, but at the same time, they shouldn't trust us too much, right? So, you've got to have the right sorts of guards in place."

Even now, with the VMware Cloud on AWS up and running (only in Northern Virginia, Oregon, Frankfurt and London so far) for almost a year, the integration work is still continuing. "The job there is not done; we have a lot of stuff to do to really complete the vision," Colbert said. "The goal now is for the service to reach global coverage and integrate deeply with advanced AWS services."

VMware must certainly be interested in getting its virtualization technology onto Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, and others at some point in the future. They are all potential sources of revenue, after all. But it has discovered that integrating its architecture with a hyper-scale cloud infrastructure designed from the ground up to support something entirely different is no quick task, and it is rightly wary of biting off more than it can chew in one go.

All of which means that, for the foreseeable future, VMware Cloud on AWS is a unique offering, the likes of which you won't be seeing elsewhere.

Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

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This article was originally published on November 28, 2018
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