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VMware expands vSphere, vSAN for hybrid cloud enterprises

Updates to VMware's flagship vSphere and vSAN software keep pace with enterprise interest in hybrid cloud infrastructure for applications and workloads.

SAN FRANCISCO -- VMware's compute and storage software is heading further into the cloud. The company's infrastructure catalogue is gaining greater interoperability with hyperscalers like AWS alongside new capabilities for cloud-focused DevOps tools.

Updates to vSphere and vSAN, the company's server and storage virtualization tools, respectively, add support for new hardware VMware expects to become ubiquitous in future enterprise datacenters.

VMware also furthered its commitment to hyperscaler partnerships with new products for AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Oracle Cloud.

Protecting and shepherding all these interconnected cloud products is Project Northstar, an enhanced version building off of VMware's network security platform NSX.

The new products unveiled during VMware Explore 2022 add to the company's wide swath of hybrid cloud capabilities but aren't moving the needle forward in technical innovation compared to hyperscalers' capabilities and technologies, said Sid Nag, an analyst at Gartner.

"Everything VMware is announcing at this conference is incremental," he said. "It's plus-plus."

V8 engine powering the cloud

The latest refreshes of vSphere and vSan support new hardware technology and increase container interoperability through Tanzu.

VMware vSphere 8 adds support for data processing units (DPU) to improve software speed and capabilities alongside existing GPU and CPU technologies. The DPU support frees up the performance and capabilities of the CPU and GPU to take on more computing functions.

Everything VMware is announcing at this conference is incremental. It's plus-plus.
Sid NagAnalyst, Gartner

DPU support in vSphere 8, a feature called vSphere on DPUs by VMware, will launch with features for Nvidia's Bluefield DPU and Dell EMC VxRail HCI (hybrid cloud hyperconverged infrastructure). Other noted technology partnerships include Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo.

With the DPU support comes network security features via the NSX platform. The NSX Distributed Firewall in vSphere 8, currently in beta, now operates on the DPU instead of bogging down existing hardware.

The vSphere 8 update also includes Tanzu Kubernetes Grid 2.0, rolling in Kubernetes container support and more capabilities for the VMware ecosystem.

Notable additions for VMware vSAN 8 include support for TLC (triple-level cell) flash storage and improved storage performance and availability, alongside general hardening for containers through a rewrite of the vSAN software.

Both vSphere 8 and vSAN 8 will be generally available before November 2022, according to VMware.

More VMware services for cloud hyperscalers

VMware Cloud Foundation, the company's HCI platform, gains new cloud interoperability with VMware Cloud Foundation+, a SaaS rendition of the platform enabling immediate access to updates and features as well as a subscription payment option.

VMware Cloud Foundation+, like the recently launched VMware vSphere+ and VMware vSAN+, adds a centralized console to manage both on-prem and cloud infrastructure. The console lets users manage their workloads by selecting where they should run and the connections to additional VMware cloud services.

VMware is also rolling out products to four cloud hyperscalers.

AWS cloud users will benefit the most with new services, including VMware Cloud Flex Storage with support for Amazon FSx on NetApp Ontap, VMware Cloud Flex Compute, and VMware Cloud Disaster Recovery (DR) and Ransomware Recovery.

The number of offerings within AWS essentially brings most of VMware's products into a public cloud through the VMware Cloud on AWS product, according to Naveen Chhabra, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"It's an enormous amount of engineering work," he said, noting the two companies first entered a partnership in 2017. "VMware is bringing the whole swath of products onto AWS."

The three other supported clouds gain smaller service benefits, such as vRealize Log Insight Cloud support within Azure and Tanzu Standard support for GCP and Oracle Cloud. GCP will also have an API/CLI integration soon, according to VMware.

To secure all these hybrid cloud workloads, VMware is looking to Project Northstar, its next major update to NSX network security features.

Project Northstar will offer multi-cloud security, threat detection and more as a centralized workload monitoring web console selling additional capabilities and features through a SaaS model.

Additional services for Project Northstar will include network policy management, analytics, load balancing and the ability to move workloads across various clouds.

No timeline was available for the formal launch of Project Northstar.

VMware competing with public cloud services

VMware's capabilities in the cloud, especially its partnership with AWS, show the company is increasingly committed to supporting its customers' hybrid cloud adoption, according to both Nag and Chhabra. But what that support means for continued VMware adoption and growth remains to be seen.

After more than a decade of virtualization dominance and about 68 million customers, VMware is making correct decisions as IT operations stretch to cloud environments, Nag said.

New enterprises or customers who aren't already joined at the hip to VMware either through experience or contracts may consider the cloud hyperscalers instead for infrastructure scalability, the addition of new services, and greater datacenter accessibility even at a higher cost, he said.

"If I were not wedded to the VMware technology, I'd move to the cloud wholesale," he said.

The size of VMware's customer base means the company remains a de facto partner and a powerhouse in the industry. Still, many of the announcements at VMware Explore 2022 are notably conservative compared to the hyperscalers.

"They have to play defense," Nag said. "They have to keep their existing client base happy."

Chhabra expects VMware adoption in the enterprise to slow down compared to cloud hyperscalers like AWS. Some products sold within AWS by VMWare touch upon many traditional pain points existing VMware customers looked for the cloud to address, potentially keeping VMware customers satisfied even in a different ecosystem, he said.

Those pain points include shifting specific workloads or managing data backups, addressed by both the VMware Cloud on AWS and the newly announced services like VMware Cloud DR and Ransomware Recovery.

Chhabra sees VMware's technological fate as similar to IBM's mainframes. Many customers will stick with the company, even if new business growth slows or dries up.

"It's not going away soon, but it's not growing either," Chhabra said.

Tim McCarthy is a journalist living in the North Shore of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.

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