Is VMware vCloud Express in trouble?

VMware's quest to partner with service providers for Amazon-style clouds seems to be coming apart due to a lack of serious interest and gratification for providers.

Only two years after VMware announced vCloud Express, the program appears to be foundering, undone by a lack of both serious interest from end users and of compelling remuneration for providers.

We measure traction across our whole vCloud initiative, and it's been very positive.

Joe Andrews, director of product marketing at VMware

vCloud Express was launched in 2009 as way for managed hosting providers with a VMware customer base to offer an Amazon Web Services (AWS) style cloud service, fully automated, self-service, and elastic, on-demand computing through APIs or a Web portal. It was touted as compatible with most virtualized enterprise infrastructure and a way for providers to entice enterprise IT to use the cloud for things like test and development.

However, so far only two service providers remain in the program out of the original five. Those five providers included Terremark, Hosting.com, Logica (in the UK), Melbourne IT (in Australia) and BlueLock. Terremark and Hosting.com are the only ones still in vCloud Express. Only one new provider, Virtacore, has been added.

All have expanded cloud computing offerings in various flavors, but vCloud Express hasn't hit the mark, it seems. BlueLock, a strong VMware partner and vCloud tester, ended its vCloud Express service in favor of the more elaborate vCloud DataCenter service.

The reasoning behind the downfall
The company said it did so because it saw enterprises wanting more features in cloud than vCloud Express could offer. When BlueLock was approached by VMware to launch a vCloud Datacenter Service, BlueLock decided to place its focus solely on that initiative, according to a company official.

BlueLock said the vCloud DataCenter program is designed for enterprises with more complex cloud needs, allowing them to act quickly, deal with unknowns and change their mind as IT needs change.

vCloud Express only lets users  provision servers and storage by themselves. Meanwhile, vCloud Datacenter is compatible with existing VMware on premise applications; gives users a more complete "virtual data center" and other vApp compatibility and directory services integration, such as LDAP. This lets enterprises tie into existing management systems and treat it more like a hosted, semi-private cloud environment.

The calculus hasn't worked out for other providers; they say customers just aren't coming. Melbourne IT bowed out of vCloud Express in June, citing a lack of interest from its core SMB base, a market dominated by AWS and Rackspace.

Melbourne IT deleted all vCloud Express accounts and any data associated with them effective July 1, and said it plans to open an enterprise cloud product based on vCloud at some point in the future. It does not say if that will be based on vCloud DataCenter, like BlueLock’s service.

At another still-active provider, Terremark, forum activity is low, with end users posting in dribs and drabs on a semi-weekly basis, instead of the steady flow that indicates a popular service. Terremark had no comment for this story.

User dissatisfaction is evident
Complaints about the mismatch between the promise of lower costs with cloud computing and VMware’s occasionally complicated billing are easy to find.

“We wanted to move several customers to this excellent platform, but could not justify the additional expense just for opening ports.” said one commenter, referring to VMware’s policy of charging additional fees for each active port connection to a virtual machine, as well as bandwidth, storage CPU time and so on. Opening four standard ports on a VM (for a Web server, for instance) could mean an additional $28 per month in fees for each VM [for every VM the user runs].

That's a different model from AWS or Rackspace that offer more flexibility with individual VMs (but are quite happy to charge for additional services, of course). It's also something that might turn off developers that want to experiment.

Hosting.com does not emphasize its vCloud Service as a standalone public cloud -- users need to sign up for one of its enterprise cloud services first, with a minimum monthly bill, before accessing vCloud Express.

Logica did not return calls for comment and as of March 2010, eight months after the launch of vCloud Express, it has removed all references to VMware’s service from its website. It might have fled a public partnership with VMware as well as the vCloud Express program.

 

We wanted to move several customers to this excellent platform, but could not justify the additional expense just for opening port.

vCloud Express commenter

vCloud Express still pushes forward
Virtacore, the newest vCloud Express provider, signed on in April and is a mid-sized VMware managed service provider in Virginia. It bills its vCloud Express program as exclusive: "One of only two global providers to offer vCloud Express," it claims. VMware said it is still open to new vCloud Express providers, and that it’s got great traction in its cloud service provider partner program, more than 5,100 signed on so far.

"We are continually evaluating service provider partners for all of our VMware vCloud programs, including vCloud Express," said Joe Andrews, director of product marketing at VMware. The company said that vCloud Express is still alive and well, but declined to give figures for participation or plans for the future. “We measure traction across our whole vCloud initiative, and it's been very positive,” said Andrews via email.

VMware said that vCloud Express has a core audience among developers and those with needs for small scale, elastic deployments and that there has been some small business uptake of the service. It said the core strength of vCloud Express is compatibility with existing workloads already running on VMware.

But that doesn’t seem to matter much to the tens of thousands of users on AWS or other public cloud services, which are still growing like weeds, while vCloud Express is not. Will there be more movement for VMware’s public cloud service or is it going to keep standing still as MSPs and hosters switch to more complex hybrid and private products (VMware powered or not) that enterprises seem to actually want?

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.

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