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VMware woos faithful to cloud with vCloud Hybrid Service

After years without its own public cloud service, VMware has introduced vCloud Hybrid Service, which could woo enterprises that trust the VMware name.

VMware's virtualization software is pervasive in enterprise IT shops, but, so far, the company hasn't been able to parlay that dominance into the cloud. Its newly launched vCloud Hybrid Service could change that, though -- at least for existing customers.

After many years of declining to offer its own public cloud service, VMware's vCloud Hybrid Service became available to early-access customers in May and is slated for general availability in the third quarter of 2013.

In the past, VMware referred customers who wanted public cloud to vCloud Powered Services partners, such as Bluelock and CSC, using its vCloud Connector tool. That approach had its drawbacks, said Mitch Northcutt, executive vice president for strategy and services at AHEAD, an IT solutions provider in Chicago. With a vCloud Powered Services public cloud, "you have no inside-out federation, no seamless management," Northcutt said.

The VMware-branded Infrastructure as a Service offering, alternatively, lets VMware vSphere and vCloud Director shops extend their virtual environments into VMware's public cloud using existing VMware tools such as vCenter while offering automated replication, monitoring using vSphere vMotion, high availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler. Customers can pay for the service on a subscription or per-use basis.

v "vCloud Hybrid Service will be the path of least resistance," Northcutt said, pointing out that users won't face high transformation costs. Plus, he said, they'll be comfortable with the tool set and have trust in the VMware name.

Participants in the early-release program are excited about it.

"If VMware can get this right -- which it looks as if they are -- then organizations coming up to refreshing their infrastructure are going to find it difficult to resist," said Neil Smith, a virtualization architect with a U.K. hedge fund and a vCloud Hybrid Service beta user. "The large majority of [corporations] are moving from a Capex- to an Opex-type model, which fits the cloud service very nicely: one monthly bill and no elevated infrastructure maintenance costs after three years of running that hardware."

Among vCloud Hybrid Service's selling points are "a slick [user interface]" that is very easy to use, pay-by-the-hour billing and the ability to redeploy certain VMware licenses, Smith said. He envisions using vCloud Hybrid Service for developer workloads as well as for select internal applications that are evolving into Software as a Service-type services, when the service becomes available in Europe in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, the city of Melrose, Mass., is eyeing the vCloud Hybrid Service as a disaster recovery (DR) target for its on-premises NetApp FlexPod environment, said Jorge Pazos, the city's CIO.

"As a municipality, I don't have a lot of luxury with geographic diversity," Pazos said. Currently, the city replicates select workloads to a DR site one mile away. "If we had a big event like a massive power outage, we could be in trouble," he said.

The city also explored Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Windows Azure, Rackspace and Bluelock for cloud-based DR, but vCloud Hybrid Service is more interoperable with the current environment, Pazos said. "With those, there's no smooth way to move workloads back and forth between them and on-premises."

Eventually, he hopes to see vCloud Hybrid Service integrated with VMware's Site Recovery Manager for fully automated business continuity. "That would be a dream come true."

The other advantage of vCloud Hybrid Service over other cloud providers is pricing predictability, Pazos said, thanks to the subscription-based pricing model. "With the other offerings, it's really hard to get a consistent sense of what your costs are going to be," he said. "It's easy to shoot yourself in the foot; if you leave a [virtual machine] running accidentally, your costs can shoot up."

vCloud Hybrid Service does not equal Amazon

But vCloud Hybrid Service should not be confused with the more established public clouds, said Carl Brooks, research analyst at 451 Research.

"It's a very, very faint shadow of AWS," Brooks said. "It's not an actual hyperscaled, globally available, elastic and apparently infinite platform." Instead, "VMware is renting space from a hosting provider and delivering vCloud," he said.

As such, vCloud Hybrid Service is probably not a fit for forward-looking developers looking to run complicated, scale-out Web applications or extensive high-performance computing workloads. But it may be exactly what mainstream IT users are looking for.

"We do extensive surveys of enterprise IT, and the overwhelming subtext of those surveys is that [IT teams] are being harassed about cloud," Brooks said. "So if you've already got VMware, when people start hassling you, you can say, 'Fine, here's your server,' and it appears as a line item on your monthly bill. It lets them off the hook."

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