VMware Cloud on AWS vs Alternatives

VMware recently announced a VMware Cloud on AWS solution (still as a Technology Preview). I want to examine what this means, as some aspects are similar to what’s already available, and the implications of the new parts.

The ability to run VMware Cloud off-premises isn’t new, and VMware itself has a vCloud Air offering, and a vCloud Air Network provided by its partners.  We also saw a preview of VMware Cross-Cloud architecture at VMworld that offers services across multiple clouds.

Therefore, let’s look at key areas of an VMware Cloud on AWS offering and dissect them one by one to see where alternatives exist and where there may be unique benefits in the long term.

Co-location with AWS

This offering is of interest to those who want to locate their VMware Cloud  environment alongside AWS itself, and gain benefits from close network connectivity. They may already use AWS extensively from their VMware Cloud environment, so the ability to connect to AWS’s compute, storage, database, analytics and other services will improve the connectivity of their VMware Cloud environment to AWS.

That’s true, but I think there are other ways to get such low latency connectivity. For example, if you use a hosting provider such as Equinix, their network connectivity to cloud providers provides similar low latency connections.

Bare Metal

Some people think that running VMware Cloud on AWS is performed by some tight integration of hypervisors. This offering uses bare metal services on AWS.  Some hosting providers offer use of bare metal, so that’s identical to the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS.

There is no nested virtualization where VMware Cloud runs within AWS VMs or direct low-level platform level integration between VMware Cloud and AWS platforms. By offering a bare metal servers, VMware Cloud on AWS is running on a separate set of servers that is co-located with the rest of AWS.  There may be more cross-cloud integration in the future, but that's not mentioned in the current tech preview.

AWS-based infrastructure

Let’s see what the benefit of AWS hardware and operations within their facilities may be. AWS touts leading security, power, connectivity, and other attributes relevant to public cloud providers.

However, vCloud Air network providers may also have similar capabilities, although not at the scale of AWS. There is a possibility that leading edge hardware (CPUs for example) is available to VMware Cloud on AWS that leverages AWS’s access to the newest hardware, but that type of advantage is always a catch-up issue, since vCloud Air Network partners or other bare metal hosting providers will eventually gain access to the same hardware. AWS facilities are good but other providers are also enterprise grade.

Management by VMware

One key differentiator for enterprises is that this solution is operated, sold, and supported by VMware, with service provided by certified (let’s assume they are VCP certified) staff.  This is the key issue—you want to operate a VMware Cloud environment off-premises, and have it reliably operated by VMware itself.  Some people insist on having the vendor provide the support and this provides the level of comfort they need.

Although VMware has a professional services organization that can provide assistance to enterprises operating private VMware Cloud environments, their focus is to design and architect systems, and rarely do they focus on day-to-day operations. Their goal is not to be a staff augmentation service, so it's difficult to gain access to VMware staff to manage your private cloud (other than vCloud Air).

Therefore, the offering's benefit is that it provides elasticity of IT staff. If you scale your workloads and deployments, VMware will provide the support, and the AWS infrastructure supports VMware Cloud as an elastic service. Of course, enterprises will continue to use their existing VMware tools to operate their systems. So it's an easy way to provision infrastructure on demand.

The idea of managed service may sound similar to Rackspace, which also offers a managed service for AWS and Microsoft Azure environments. That seems to be a trend that fills an increasing need—use the elasticity of the managed service provider to provide support for the enterprise customer's fixed human resources. My prior blog on Rackspace discusses this issue.

Note that VMware has a good certification program and a network of partners, so the quality of service (and appropriate escalation for severe problems) from other providers is good. It's just that some enterprises insist on "getting their solution from the source," and that's where VMware Cloud on AWS may make sense, no matter how fanatical the third-party VMware partners may be. ("Fanatical support" is a phrase from Rackspace, a VMware partner.)

However, if you take this "getting the support from the platform vendor" reasoning to the extreme, you will gravitate toward vCloud Air itself, which takes AWS out of the equation, and go 100% VMware.

Take away: Enterprises already have many similar choices today

  • If you are focused solely on items like low latency connections to a cloud provider, then providers such as Equinix or any co-location provider with a good network interconnection, will provide an equally good solution.
  • If you need a managed services—in particular, a multi-cloud solution where one vendor offers managed services across multiple platforms—then managed service providers like Rackspace offer solutions across public clouds and their own vSphere hosting services. CenturyLink is another example of a managed infrastucture provider with many options on- and off-premises.
  • If you just want a bare metal cloud service, there are choices such as IBM SoftLayer, Oracle Bare Metal, or Rackspace, and these firms offer enterprise-oriented care that will be comforting for traditional enterprises.
  • If AWS is not critical to you, then vCloud Air or its vCloud Air Network partner solutions are a viable alternative, and use a VMware branded service.

Let's consider the case where this solution offers something needed by some enterprise customers and also try to understand what the long-term implications may be.

Where it meets a need, with a look toward the future of Cross Cloud

If you’re focused on getting bare metal AWS infrastructure for running VMware Cloud, and supported by VMware, then this is the way to go. Indeed, it's the only way to go, since AWS does not offer a bare metal service by itself. If AWS can deliver provisioning times or other performance that are better than the alternatives, that's a benefit for enterprises. We'll see how this unfolds as production systems come on-line as IaaS is a fiercely competitive business.

However, it's better to consider the possibilities on the long term. I would not focus too much on the announced offering, which is still in technical preview and that may be misleading.

If this partnership flourishes and exploits VMware Cross Cloud architectures, there may be tighter integration between platforms.  That would be quite interesting and would be the true value of this type of partnership.

Perhaps there will be a way to share storage, backup, and disaster recovery capabilities with AWS, or integrate their networks closely via NSX (there are some previews for that solution). Future applications may be a mixture of modern cloud-first applications components (AWS Lambda) running alongside legacy applications. If such a combination can be managed in an integrated way, this platform combination will be interesting.

Summary and recommendation

Don't focus on this specific short-term announcement. VMware Cloud on AWS is still in technical preview, after all.

In the short term, remember that this offering is a bare metal managed service for VMware Cloud that resides on AWS infrastructure. In the long term, we can only speculate but if the vision for Cross Cloud is realized, the effects may be extensive.

If VMware and its partners can realize the promise of Cross Cloud with tighter integration between various cloud platforms and cloud-based services such as storage, then this solution with AWS (along with other partners) will be very interesting.

Examine this with the long-term possibilities as the real goal. When those stories start to unfold, then you can look at this solution in earnest. Until then, do examine the current alternatives from VMware or its partners and optionally experiment with this technical preview.

Dan Conde is an analyst covering enterprise networking technologies for ESG. Read more ESG blogs here.