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Questions loom over Amazon-VMware cloud deal

The recent AWS-VMware cloud deal has IT pros wondering about price, feature set and much more. Laz Vekiarides, CTO of ClearSky Data and former Dell executive, gives his take.

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The VMware Cloud on Amazon Web Services is an unlikely partnership that just might work.

IT professionals are genuinely curious about the Amazon-VMware partnership, and the resulting VMware Cloud on Amazon Web Services (AWS) offering. But details about the arrangement, unveiled in late 2016, remain elusive. While prospective customers wait to hear exactly how the service will work and how much it will cost, Modern Infrastructure's Nick Martin talked with Laz Vekiarides, CTO of ClearSky Data and former Dell executive, to get his unfiltered thoughts on the joint venture.

Who stands to win from the Amazon-VMware deal?

Laz Vekiarides: The agreement has a lot of benefits from VMware's standpoint because they need to be able to say they're doing something with the cloud -- that they're still relevant. The worst thing that could happen for VMware is for someone to come along and make it easy to convert VMware VMs to run on Amazon. If that were to happen, those VMs are gone forever. From the Amazon perspective, it's hard not to see it from a more nefarious standpoint. Amazon really wants to own these workloads. They want people to create Amazon accounts because they believe, once you're in, you're going to keep using it. They are totally hellbent on getting more users, and this is a huge untapped market for them.

According to information we've seen, this service will be sold, operated and maintained by VMware with AWS providing real estate. Do we trust VMware to operate this cloud when it wasn't successful with vCloud Air?

Vekiarides: I was just talking with a customer last week who was complaining about vCloud Air. The functionality isn't there. It's not a complete product. It's really easy to say you have a cloud, but the reality of building a cloud and building those cloud-scale economics for your customers while not losing your shirt. That's not a trivial task.

There's so much wreckage in this industry of companies that have tried and failed to build clouds. We're in a world right now where operational expertise is a more precious commodity than the core technology.
Laz VekiaridesCTO of ClearSky Data

There's so much wreckage in this industry of companies that have tried and failed to build clouds. We're in a world right now where operational expertise is a more precious commodity than the core technology.

A lot of the details are still sketchy. The thing you have to remember about VMware, as a general rule, is they're a software company. Anything that has to do with hardware or even the operational aspect around hardware, they're not good with. I'm a bit skeptical too. I don't know to what extent Amazon is providing operational expertise. This arrangement suggests to me that there's more to it than just hardware; there's a lot of operational scaffolding that goes around supporting that hardware. It's kind of funny; Amazon has become something like a colocation as a service. And you would think VMware would be able to figure out how to run its own software.

The VMware folks are smart people, and I don't think they're going to try something that exposes them to this level of risk without doing it right. They know they're a software company and there are certain things they don't do well. It would baffle me if they created an environment here where they couldn't succeed.

How big of a sticking point is pricing going to be?

Vekiarides: There's a precedent for this. You can go to IBM SoftLayer today and get a bare-metal [VMware ESXi] box and see the cost. Yeah, it's not cheap. I don't think -- given the way VMware works with partners -- they would price it substantially different because that would just be bad etiquette. My guess is they'd have to price it the same or have to roll down all the prices across their partners equally.

Laz Vekiarides, CTO of ClearSky DataLaz Vekiarides

They like to maintain a narrative about being partner-centric. The other thing I think you should expect is they are busy trying to figure out how to make this happen in Azure and in Google. I can't believe that wouldn't be something they're thinking about. The question is, how much headway can they make?

Where my skepticism stands right now is around the features. How much of this service can access the rest of AWS' [features]? And how will the feature set compare to what the VMware user has on premises? I wouldn't be surprised to find out that not all the features you have on premises are available in the Amazon world. They can find ways to screw it up. I'm more inclined to believe they'll cut off functionality in the worry that it may just lead people to AWS. Both of these companies remain skeptical of each other. 

Next Steps

Experts reflect on VMware cloud services

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This was last published in February 2017

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Well, if VMware is so sure that every workload that moves to AWS is a loss for VMware, just why would they do something to make it a reality? The answer is neither AWS nor VMware has a credible hybrid cloud service. AWS is fundamentally opposed to developing a hybrid cloud service, although for a time AWS did offer technical support to AWS-compatible hybrid cloud player Eucalyptus. After Eucalyptus was acquired by HP it fell into obscurity. VMware has tried its hand at providing a hybrid cloud service for its customers without much success. The cloud hardware expertise of AWS and VMware's software could work for VMware but it has hidden dangers. The new AWS-VMware hybrid cloud partnership offering won't be getting underway until the middle of 2017, which is curiously about the time Microsoft plans to roll-out its Azure hybrid cloud stack with hardware partners Dell, HPE, and Lenovo. The story could be framed as a competition between VMware and Microsoft to get an early advantage in the market for hybrid cloud services. If it is, then Microsoft seems to have a better position in the starting gate, but time will tell.
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