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VMware hybrid cloud to nip at Azure's heels in 2015

VMware added a number of new features to its public cloud and rebranded it as vCloud Air in 2014, but the focus will still remain on hybrid in 2015.

VMware took the 'hybrid' out of the name of its public cloud platform this year, but don't expect the virtualization...

provider to abandon its hybrid cloud strategy any time soon.

VMware rebranded vCloud Hybrid Services (vCHS) to vCloud Air this year, in part, to emphasize the cloud-first tools of the business arm. But make no mistake, hybrid remains central to VMware's cloud play and 2015 could be the year it starts to move more traditional enterprise IT shops to do more in public cloud.

VMware is a trusted tech vendor for large enterprises, and it's the company that remains one of the last bastions for traditional IT, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research, LLC, based in New York. But if VMware says cloud is OK, that could be the green light for these customers, he added.

"They are the ice breaker for the larger enterprise to get into the cloud," Brooks said. "The most important thing they do with cloud infrastructure is validate the idea of hosted infrastructure for enterprises that are otherwise not open to that idea."

Over the past year, VMware's focus has been on building the core infrastructure as a service so VMware customers can mirror on-premises data centers in the cloud at the compute, network and storage levels, said Ajay Patel, VMware vice president of applications as a service.

"On an enterprise level the reason people have been gun shy [about public cloud] is the operational model," Patel said. "They don't want to have to have distinct silos … All the economic benefits get undermined by the cost of having two stacks."

The real question is whether they get serious this year and really put something out there
James Statenanalyst, Forrester Research

It's a message that resonates with customers such as Creative Solutions in Healthcare, which was a Microsoft shop with all physical servers that made the switch to vCloud Air and virtualization with VMware after being unhappy with an Azure pilot run, mainly due to communication issues with Microsoft, said Shawn Wiora, CIO for the mid-market health care company based in Fort Worth, Texas.

The company chose VMware because of its reputation in virtualization and assurances about support for applications in the cloud to meet HIPAA and HITECH standards. And while a pure-play public cloud vendor may work for large IT shops with several hundred employees looking for commodity purchases, or for those who don't mind having less control over their cloud-based workloads, it didn't work for Creative Solutions in Healthcare.

"For a company without a 100 people in IT this works out really well because they kind of hold your hand," Wiora said.

VMware hybrid cloud evolution continues

Its peers may own the IaaS layer, but the focus at vCloud Air has been on ISV solutions and organic growth of services on top of the infrastructure layer, Patel said. Amazon remains the market leader in public cloud by a sizable margin, but most analysts put Microsoft as the next closest competitors, and in 2015 VMware will be "nipping at the heels of Azure," he added.

Other services are on the horizon, too, though no specifics have been disclosed.

"We're getting more aggressive around big data and analytics," Patel said. "We've clearly seen a lot of interest but haven't publicly responded there."

In addition to the rebrand, VMware made several additions to its public cloud offering, either through organic growth or acquisitions, as well as the cloud management tools available through VMware's vRealize Suite.

Among the additions either in beta or generally available are tools for disaster recovery, database as a service, pay-as-you-go pricing, and virtual private cloud on demand. VMware also took the somewhat surprising step this year of integrating containers, adding compatibility with Docker, Kubernetes and Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

But for VMware to truly remain competitive in the cloud market it must update its development cycles, which run anywhere from six months to a year, while vendors such as Google and Amazon have shorted development cycles to weeks, Brooks said.

"There is a long edge in virtualization, but zero edge in delivering cloud services," Brooks said. "They will never see a consistent increase [in cloud sales] if the updates are just too slow."

VCloud Air is now available in 11 data centers, and a concerted effort was made this year to expand the global footprint with new facilities in Germany and the UK, and joint ventures with SoftBank Corp. and Telstra to enter markets in Japan Australia, respectively.

Despite the additions, VMware continues to think of cloud as a subset of the overall business and haven't done enough to embrace pay-per-use or developers, said James Staten, vice president and analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

"The real question is whether they get serious this year and really put something out there," Staten said.

The larger issue, however, is that parent company EMC continues to operate as a holding company, Staten said. Members of the EMC Federation are too isolated and there are assets in VMware's sister company Pivotal that should be in vCloud Air, Staten said. EMC needs to reorganize, but don't expect that to happen in 2015, he added.

But relationships between EMC, VMware and Pivotal are positive and the collaboration has been improving, Patel said. VMware is relying on EMC for its database as a service and a Pivotal starter kit for vCloud Air will go to market next year. There is also a more concerted effort to marry the myriad sales initiatives when pitching to customers.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at tjones@techtarget.com.

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Will you use VMware vCloud Air in 2015?
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Definitely, I will. This is a public cloud platform, which is perfectly compatible with my on-premises data center, infrastructure, and disaster recovery. I extend my huge workloads to the cloud with ease, migrate my onsite Virtual Machines to the public cloud, and benefit from various applications as service offerings. Moreover, I often port VMs and other critical business workloads to and from any desirable location, and still ensure security. Thanks to VMware vCloud Air.
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It will be really interesting to watch the use-cases that grow for vCloud Air usage. I suspect that we'll see many IT orgs use vCloud Air as a step in moving more workloads out of their data centers, and use their VMware ELAs as a way to leverage better pricing. I don't see it being a big developer target in 2015 vs. AWS, Azure and GCP. Will be very interesting to see how heavily they market Cloud Foundry on vCloud Air towards the developer communities.
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