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RDS on VMware extends AWS' hybrid strategy

RDS on premises expands the AWS and VMware relationship, but adoption will depend on the breadth of capabilities for the managed database service.

AWS and VMware made waves when they first partnered two years ago, and both companies continue to invest to meet customers' hybrid demands.

The initial partnership resulted in VMware Cloud on AWS, a vSphere-based service that runs on Amazon's public cloud. This benefited customers that relied heavily on VMware products but needed to expand to the cloud, as well as those already on AWS that wanted to introduce VMware to their environment.

The two sides went a step further in August 2018 with plans to bring Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) -- one of its best-known services -- to on-premises VMware environments. It was an unexpected move from Amazon, because, unlike its competitors, it has mostly avoided pushing services outside its public cloud.

RDS on VMware is only available in public preview, but let's take an early look at what we know so far and can expect.

What is RDS on VMware?

Organizations will be able to use RDS on VMware to automate database provisioning, patching, backups and more. It will run for workloads in vSphere environments on AWS and on premises. Relational database management is a fairly tedious and costly process, and any issues during the administration of the databases can lead to long downtimes and prove costly to a business. This is one of the reasons RDS has been so successful and why RDS on VMware is a logical extension of the service.

The service may have the greatest impact on VMware users who want to replace their existing database architecture, but there are more advantages than just reduced management. For example, an organization could move its AWS database workloads back to its own data center, where the database would utilize existing infrastructure. This move could help control costs since the organization already owns the hardware and could also address security and compliance concerns about workloads hosted on the cloud.

RDS on VMware will support Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL and MariaDB database engines. AWS will make most RDS capabilities available through this service, but there will also likely be additional functionalities exclusively built for VMware environments. For the new service, some expect features such as extensive data recovery through hybrid snapshots and read replicas, as well as cross-cluster high availability.

What we don't know yet

It's unclear what features RDS on VMware will support out of the box when it becomes generally available. We might get a full product with all of its functionalities, but it's also possible AWS will add some features later, or not at all. This could be the difference between organizations that adopt it on day one versus those that wait.

For example, due to architectural requirements, organizations won't be able to run Amazon Aurora on premises. The distributed nature of the service makes it impossible to replicate the cloud-based availability and durability in an on-premises environment. This, of course, means that Aurora Serverless is out of the picture as well. As the release date approaches, we might see more features and capabilities stripped away to properly facilitate RDS in a virtualized VMware environment.

RDS on VMware availability on the AWS side is also of great importance. Initially, RDS on VMware will be available in U.S. East 1 (Northern Virginia), U.S West 2 (Oregon), EU Central 1 (Frankfurt) and AP Northeast 1 (Tokyo), but how long will other regions have to wait? Other big uncertainties for the service include the pricing model and rates, neither of which has been disclosed.

More hybrid on the way

Still, RDS on VMware will definitely attract more customers to both AWS and VMware. Some users will likely start small in their on-premises VMware environments and later expand more and more to the AWS cloud. Others might simply start off with the cloud-based VMware environments straight on AWS.

It also turns out that RDS on VMware could serve as a prelude of what's to come. At re:Invent 2018, Amazon rolled out Outposts, a managed storage and compute rack built with AWS-designed hardware that can be installed on premises to extend some Amazon services into customers' data centers. Outposts will come in AWS-native or VMware variants. It's yet another move by Amazon to expand beyond the cloud, and it will be interesting to see what comes next.

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