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Amazon tempts enterprises with VMware VM Import converter

Amazon Web Services has added a feature that converts VMware files on the fly to EC2 images. Good idea, but it's likely not enough to woo enterprises.

Amazon Web Services has designed a feature for VMware enterprise customers that lets them upload virtual machine images directly into Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud. But while this technological advance is helpful, it does not address the real reasons that enterprises have thus far avoided public cloud services.

Converting virtual machines to AMI format wasn't a big barrier.


James Staten, vice president at Forrester,

VM Import converts the images from VMware Virtual Machine Disk Format (VMDK) to Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) as a user uploads them. Using the command line API tools from Amazon Web Services (AWS), users can select a VMDK image and the type of instance they want to run. Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) will then automatically suck up the file, convert it and run it. VM Import currently only supports Windows Server 2008 SP2, but AWS says that other operating systems are in the works.

"It's a great development!" said Brian Corrigan, CTO at Major League Gaming, a media company that manages a professional video game league. Corrigan runs dedicated virtual and cloud infrastructures at Rackspace, Terremark and Rackspace Cloud, mostly because those providers offer better networking and security controls. Corrigan said that while he appreciated the advent of VMware on AWS, he still found the lack of true network segregation to be a fly in the ointment.

VM Import can be used with Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), which gives users the option of creating a private network within EC2 that has no outward-facing connections. But that's not in the same league as having a dedicated firewall appliance to spate infrastructure, which Rackspace and Terremark provide. Corrigan said the idea of sharing infrastructure without those capabilities was a non-starter for any number of reasons, especially performance and security.

Amazon aims for the enterprise
This isn't sorcery, of course. While Amazon runs on the open source Xen hypervisor and VMware's VMDK is proprietary, VMware has long championed the non-proprietary Open Virtual Format virtual machine image. There are several popular methods for porting virtual machines (VMs) between different formats; VM Import just eliminates those do-it-yourself steps, which will definitely make it more attractive to enterprise users.

"[It's] one more thing that makes it easier for enterprises to use AWS, but converting VMs to AMI format wasn't a big barrier," said James Staten, a vice president at Forrester, a Cambridge, Mass.-based consulting firm.

Amazon is hungry for the enterprise market, but the barriers for enterprises on public clouds are really based more around issues of policy, governance and control. Staten has predicted a landmark year for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and cloud computing.

He contends that VM Import will appeal to enterprises, but hosted private clouds from a variety of service providers, large and small, will be the preferred offering. It could be that VM Import is a sign of more things to come on VMware from Amazon. Given that current Amazon customers don't care much about hypervisor technology, there's no other reason for it to put this kind of effort into VMware compatibility besides attracting enterprise attention.

VMware says there has been no collaboration between the two firms on the new feature; whatever Amazon is doing with VMware technology, it's doing it alone. Matthew Lodge, senior director for cloud services at VMware, said via email that the trend for the enterprise was towards hybrid clouds under a common, unified interface, extending the capabilities enterprises were already accustomed to.

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for Contact him at

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