Piecing together VMware's cloud strategy

Can VMware's lead in server virtualization translate to cloud supremacy? A bevy of challengers will make VMware's goal of bringing cloud to the enterprise a difficult one.

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VMware has created its own cloud computing universe. Heck, it's even got its own complicated cloud language.

Through a variety of products, from its vSphere platform to its vCloud Director management software, VMware looks to virtualize and automate all applications in an amalgamation of public and private cloud services. But the company is up against a mighty group of competitors and already faces a litany of cloud challenges.

VMware is a big name, at least in server virtualization, so it is guaranteed to attract customers from its considerable base. But what will it really bring to cloud computing? How will the virtualization leader's cloud strategy pay off for IT pros in large organizations? Will VMware play a role in breaking cloud into the enterprise, or is it just another face in the crowd?

VMware's cloud acquisitions
One VMware strategy is to acquire other cloud-oriented companies and combine their specialties. In August of 2009, VMware spent $362 million on application development framework provider SpringSource. The VMware/SpringSource combo then kicked off their partnership by buying Rabbit Technologies, an open source company that specializes in enterprise messaging software.

Either by acquisition or affiliation, VMware wants to be all things cloud.

And in early 2010, VMware purchased hosted email vendor Zimbra. VMware CTO Steve Herrod explained the Zimbra/SpringSource acquisitions by saying they'd "simplify IT for customers," and numerous executives noted that VMware was now focused on building out its cloud stack.

But did VMware overextend itself with all these purchases? Should the company focus on enterprise software and application development? Or is it all part of an emerging grand cloud plan?

VMforce revealed
Well, if VMware's cloud strategy involves building hype and gobbling up free press, the way the company handled its VMforce announcement would certainly qualify as a success. A website called VMforce.com quietly launched in early 2010, bringing about instant speculation that VMware and Salesforce.com would join forces on a new venture. This, of course, turned out to be the Platform as a Service offering called VMforce.

VMware and Salesforce.com focus on different aspects of cloud, but VMforce was aimed not at traditional software developers but the more cloud-oriented Software as a Service and Web services developers. For quite a while, the development platform was even touted as cloud computing's future.

Of course, it raised some eyebrows in December when Salesforce.com spent $212 million on fellow cloud development platform Heroku. With a fully formed and popular platform in house, how can the still-in-beta VMforce grab any attention? Salesforce.com claims it'll receive full support, but VMware can't be too pleased at this turn of events.

Google/VMware: Two great tastes, together at last
This wasn't the last of VMware's unlikely partnerships. At Google's I/O conference in May 2010, VMware disclosed a relationship that would allow developers to build applications on Google App Engine. They would be able to write said apps with either SpringSource's Java development tools or Google's Web Toolkit.

Speculation mounted that VMware and Google has put up a united front against Microsoft's Azure platform. It was also noted that this partnership closely mirrored the one that spawned VMforce, although VMware suggested that the Salesforce.com venture was more focused on the enterprise.

Either way, VMware wants to be all things cloud, either by acquisition or affiliation. CEO Paul Maritz promoted his company's portfolio, suggesting that VMware would offer an "open source layer to cloak the clouds." But do cloud customers want this bevy of partnerships and options, or do they want a concrete, central cloud service?

Did VMware vCloud Director live up to the hype?
In August 2009, VMware disclosed its "Project Redwood." The company offered a teaser in its VMworld 2009 schedule when it indicated that it would discuss an "end-to-end solution for setting up internal and external clouds," a product might end up being VMware's flagship cloud offering.

It wasn't until May 2010 that plans for VMware's Redwood leaked. The end result was VMware vCloud Director, a hybrid management product for the enterprise that helps move virtual machines (VMs) from private to public clouds.

What will VMware really bring to cloud computing?

But is vCloud Director all that? Not exactly. It has some strict requirements and it requires third-party products to function properly. It may appeal to IT administrators in VMware shops that are looking for a way to manage and provision their virtual machines, but it's not meant to be a complete cloud offering.

VMware's service, however, is still new. Right now, ensuring the proper vCloud Director configuration is more important than debating its worth in the grand scheme of cloud products. At the very least, it occupies a crucial place in the company’s cloud computing portfolio.

What's next for VMware
So what is VMware’s cloud strategy? The company wants relationships with numerous cloud service providers, and it wants to bridge (and manage) the gap between compatible public and private clouds.

The VMware Go Pro program, launched last year, looks to pass off private cloud onto smaller IT shops. The vSphere 5 release in late 2010 will provide private cloud automation and storage-themed VM elasticity. And VMware has recently leaked another bit of cloud info -- a plug-in for vSphere that connects private and public clouds.

On paper, VMware has a long roster of cloud computing technologies for the enterprise. Whether all these services and VMware's clout are enough to bring cloud to the large and rich enterprises masses, however, remains to be seen.

Steve Cimino is the Associate Editor for SearchCloudComputing.com.

This was first published in March 2011

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