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Has VMware found a cloud strategy savior in AWS?

Paul Rubens | Dec. 22, 2016
VMware's partnership with AWS appears to be a tacit admission that its hybrid cloud offering is inadequate for most customers.

Adversity makes strange bedfellows, and in the case of VMware — a company that has made its fortune selling server virtualization software — that bedfellow is Amazon Web Services (AWS), the  public cloud leviathan.

Let's rewind to the middle of October, when Mark Lohmeyer, a VMware cloud business unit vice president,  announced that the company was forming a strategic partnership with AWS so that VMware's server virtualization and other software could be run in the AWS public cloud. The idea is that VMware customers using the company's software to run a private cloud in their own data centers will be able to expand into a similar VMware infrastructure run in AWS's public cloud, thereby forming a VMware-based hybrid cloud. The VMware software (called vCenter) used by company administrators to manage the private cloud will reach into the AWS cloud to manage the VMware software running there as well.

What's strange about this is that the idea of a hybrid cloud is not even remotely new. In fact, it's an idea that VMware itself has tried hard to make a reality. To that end the company announced, to some fanfare, the creation of its own public cloud as long ago as 2008. Originally called vCloud, it finally saw the light of day as vCloud Hybrid Service in 2013, before being rebranded as vCloud Air the following year.

vCloud Air has found some success, and is offered from a handful of data centers in the United States as well as sites in the U.K., Germany, Japan and Australia. But VMware's public cloud has hardly set the world on fire.

To understand why vCloud Air hasn’t been adopted with the enthusiasm that VMware may have hoped for, we have to look back to VMware's roots as a server virtualization company. Over the years, server virtualization has become more common, cheaper and easier — thanks in part to the arrival of Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor built into its Windows Server products, as well as open source server virtualization solutions based on software such as KVM and Xen.

With server virtualization software itself becoming something of a commodity, VMware pursued a strategy of expanding into cloud software (which is closely related) — hence the move to establish vCloud Air as VMware's public cloud.

Unfortunately for VMware, there are already two (or three if you count Google Cloud Platform) formidable public clouds: AWS and Microsoft's Azure. Both of these offer dozens of additional cloud services: things like managed database services, storage services, analytics, messaging services, automated load balancing and auto-scaling.

Put simply, AWS and Azure are specialist public clouds and VMware can't compete with them in terms of the services they offer, the number of geographic locations from which they operate, and thanks to economies of scale it is hard to imagine it can come close to competing with them in terms of cost efficiency. That's certainly the view of Rich Finlay, an AWS practice manager at Softchoice, a Canada-based technology solutions provider. "Customers are demanding a lot more than just a virtualization platform, and that's why they are embracing AWS and Azure," he says.


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