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VMware hybrid clouds refreshed with containers

Hoping to remain competitive with rivals Microsoft and AWS, VMware is updating its hybrid cloud platform, marrying cloud products with a number of container-based technologies.

VMware is going back to a familiar message in hopes of attracting enterprises to its hybrid cloud strategy -- in short, you'll be able to get VMware's lineup anywhere you want it.

The company is set to lay out this refreshed vision at the VMworld conference in San Francisco this week. What differs from past incantations of the idea is the addition of new technologies for containers and other technologies that lie adjacent to its core vSphere virtualization stack.

"We are taking the advances we made with the software-defined data center and coupling it with our Virtual Cloud Network, which includes NSX and Velo Cloud," said Kit Colbert, VMware's vice president and CTO of cloud platform, in a call with journalists prior to VMworld. "This underlying network fabric is what connects all the different software-defined data centers around the world with a standardized networking topology," he said.

The VMware hybrid cloud platform evolution started with VMware Cloud Foundation, which, according to Colbert, was the company's attempt to virtualize the entire data center, not just individual compute, storage and networking capabilities. Colbert said that offering was designed to help corporate users tie together the core data center, the cloud and the edge.

But as users set up their infrastructure in various locations, the company realized it needed to build on VMware Cloud Foundation, providing a more expansive architecture that addressed user concerns across all these environments.

The value of the new platform, according to Colbert, is it gives corporate users choice of not just where they want to deploy a VMware hybrid cloud infrastructure but also how they choose to consume it.

"Users can decide the location, whether they want us to manage it or manage it themselves," Colbert said. "Wherever they want an application to run, we can deliver it there and do so in a consistent fashion across platforms."

VMware's cloud stack gets more horizontal and vertical

The new services the company is introducing at the show can be layered on top of the VMware hybrid cloud platform and simultaneously managed across all their local and far-flung locations.

VMware will be highly dependent on its partner network to sell and support the refreshed hybrid cloud platform, Colbert said. He added that the company will be working in concert with approximately 4,300 partners and have access to 10,000 data center locations.

The company backed up the focus on its VMware hybrid cloud platform with a handful of products and services it has put together with Dell Technologies. The companies jointly announced that the Dell Technologies Cloud Platform now supports VMware's Pivotal Container Service (PKS), allowing user organizations to run and manage Kubernetes side by side with more traditional existing workloads. Dell officials said the Dell Cloud will support the automated deployment of PKS on its VxRail offering and will add integrated support for Kubernetes and containers.

One analyst said the two companies will have to provide more details about how it will extract the complexity that Kubernetes presents most corporate users, which has posed as a barrier to adoption.

"Just throwing around terms like Kubernetes, cloud and containers is not enough," said Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz & Associates in Needham, Mass. "[Kubernetes] is complicated stuff to manage. If it is not extracted, then you are dealing with fairly low-level code. It could be this is still a work in progress."

The companies also unveiled Dell Technologies Cloud Validated Designs to assist users in creating cloud environments using Dell's servers, storage and networking offerings. The product consists of pre-tested infrastructure along with deployment guidance using Dell's compute, storage and networking products and validated with VMware Cloud Foundation. The designs available now include designs for Dell EMC PowerMax and Dell EMC Unity storage arrays, along with designed for Dell EMC PowerEdge MX servers.

VMware also announced the availability of a managed data-center-as-a-service offering that consists of the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC, along with a pay-for-what-you-use consumption model.

VMware cloud strategy involves trade-offs

The company's message for its VMware hybrid cloud isn't necessarily new. But its intent should have resonance among customers, said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC. "It's going to be a very practical thing for a lot of people," Chen said. "You can't move VMware workloads to another platform without a lot of time and effort."

It's going to be a very practical thing for a lot of people. You can't move VMware workloads to another platform without a lot of time and effort.
Gary ChenAnalyst, IDC

The challenge will be for VMware to attract new hybrid cloud workloads, he added. "If you stand up something new, will you want to use VMware?"

While VMware partners with the likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google on deployments of its stack, there are different aspects to consider. "AWS has a lot of different services above the infrastructure that VMware is just starting to build," Chen said.

"VMware is going to offer a lot more flexibility and portability, but you're not going to be able to use a lot of those natively. It's kind of like 'pick your poison,'" he said. "Whatever you choose, there's going to be some lock-in. There's no getting around that. But VMware is saying that if you're locked into us, you can move [its platform] all around."

But VMware also wants to appease more conservative companies by ensuring its pitch includes emphasis on private clouds run on premises. "This is not rocket science," Hurwitz said. "You have companies that say, yeah we want to do the cloud, but we want to keep it right here inside [their own data centers]."

VMware has also made a series of acquisitions of late, including its purchase of Pivotal, the open-source PaaS company it spun off in 2013. The moves give VMware more arrows in its sales quiver and the ability to have conversations with customers that involve both infrastructure and application team leaders. But it also places the onus on VMware to deliver a coherent message to customers and prospects, not just throw around buzzwords like Kubernetes, Hurwitz said.

"It is immature and complicated stuff to manage," she said. "I think they [VMware] have a fairly conservative, risk-averse user base -- the typical virtualization users. I think what they are trying to do is say, don't worry, you can do cloud and we will take care of it for you, and you won't have to worry much about all this modern stuff -- we'll manage it, but if you want it in your data center, you can have that, too."

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