VMware's new public cloud platform, vCloud Hybrid Service, gives the company's existing virtualization customers a clear path to the cloud, but gaining a foothold against incumbent cloud leader Amazon Web Services will be a challenge.
In this Q&A, Bill Fathers, senior vice president and general manager of VMware Inc.'s Hybrid Cloud Business Unit, discusses the unavoidable comparisons with Amazon Web Services (AWS), VMware's strategy to tackle the enterprise market first, and its plans to become a leader in the cloud computing space.
Does VMware expect to win cloud computing business from Amazon Web Services? Or is the intention to mine its own customer base for greenfield opportunities?
Bill Fathers: Initially, the target focus, as you'd imagine, is our existing clients, our existing buyers and the workloads that VMware has traditionally supported, which has tended to be more of the traditional type [of] applications. We'll really differentiate ourselves in that market with this on-premises to off-premises compatibility and this hybrid story, and just making it commercially and technically seamless for them to regard us as an extension of their existing data center.
Having established that credibility and foothold, we absolutely intend to become relevant to clients to support the needs of their next-gen apps, which then would start to potentially encroach on Amazon's market a little more. The reason we're doing this is we think what enterprises want is one cloud partner they can use for both their traditional and next-generation apps.
Today we think the world is fairly bifurcated between born-in-the-cloud-type providers like Amazon, who are fantastic for targeting next-gen apps, and other providers targeting traditional apps. If you ask any enterprise, what they really want is someone who can do both, for good technical reasons -- it's not procurement efficiency that drives that; it's obviously [that] most of these next-gen apps need to talk to traditional apps and have interaction with them. So having a single cloud provider that can support scale-out, Web-type apps that can seamlessly connect back to an older Oracle database, that's what they want.
How can VMware's Hybrid Service remain competitive with AWS on price? Right now it's fairly equivalent, but AWS drops its prices all the time.
Bill FathersGM, VMware's vCloud Hybrid Service
Fathers: We are targeting really quite different marketplaces in terms of the workloads we're targeting, the buyer we're targeting, and our differentiation. But at the end of the day … clients are going to want to understand any basis for differentiation on price relative to a dominant player like Amazon.
The short answer is our maximum use of virtualization; we are bleeding-edge clients of the software-defined data center. So if we look at the technology stack we're using -- which is taking full advantage of all aspects of the software-defined data center across compute, network and storage -- and of course, frankly, the fact that we're owned by one of the biggest storage companies on the planet, and as you can imagine, that gives us a pretty attractive price point for what for many providers is one-third or half of capital [outlay]. … Hopefully, in years two, three and four, we'll start to catch up in terms of scale. This is a scale economic game, and we hope to get there within two to three years.
So VMware eats its own dog food, so to speak, with vCloud Director and NSX?
Fathers: That's it. The full software-defined data center.
Does VMware run all its own websites on the vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS)?
Fathers: I don't know. It almost certainly doesn't run all of them today -- but 'don't know' is the short answer.
The reason I ask is we received some information showing the VMworld 2013 registration page was running on AWS.*
Fathers: Clearly we've become pretty big clients of [vCHS] ourselves, which we don't mind telling people. But I know specifically there is a concern among VMware folk about being too specific about which of our websites live where, just from a security perspective. For obvious reasons, we don't call out where our websites reside, because we're the target of quite a bit of attack. So I know there's sensitivity around that. I don't specifically know whether that piece of our Web infrastructure is on our platform or not, but we use our platform ourselves a lot.
What is VMware's plan for running its own websites and infrastructure on its own cloud?
Fathers: We're happy to say we're going to make aggressive use of our own platform for a broad range of workloads across VMware globally. You'll see us become pretty big users of it.
Cloud Foundry will run on vCloud Hybrid Service. What else is VMware doing to attract developers?
Fathers: Cloud Foundry is the beginning of what will be a fully comprehensive story. You'll see our strategy evolve as we pivot from the existing IT buyer into the developers, both within the IT function and the line of business.
Many developers are very keen on making the timeframes in which they can get an app up and running in the cloud as fast as possible, so you'll see us introduce increasing levels of automation and make the whole purchasing experience increasingly frictionless, so you can buy capacity from us in a much quicker model. You'll see us introduce greater granularity so you can buy services on usage-based billing and … the portfolio of services we're introducing, including Cloud Foundry, will then in turn pull through a range of application services, Database as a Service, Caching as a Service, that kind of stuff. We're not announcing any of that beyond Cloud Foundry, but you can see where our roadmap is heading.
What's the plan for international rollout of vCHS? Which countries will come first?
Fathers: Our plans are to roll out to Europe and Asia in the first half of next year, and we're currently slating the first quarter of next year as the date by which we will be [generally available] in the U.K. … and into Asia-Pacific sometime later in the first half of next year.
How is VMware going to offer Disaster Recovery as a Service through vCHS by the fourth quarter when the replication products don't yet work in multi-tenant environments?
Fathers: We have been working on ways to solve that problem. … Recognizing that aspect of existing products we realized was the key problem to be solved. That's not the only product that we've got where we need to solve the multi-tenancy issue. And that's what my team [has] been doing for the last 18 months to two years, and with DR as a Service, that's what we're doing; solving that multi-tenancy issue.
If the problems with multi-tenancy are still being worked on, how can VMware promise that fourth-quarter timeframe?
Fathers: It's like all product development roadmaps. We make a very well-informed decision about where we are in the development lifecycle, and we obviously had to do our own internal vetting to make sure we were comfortable announcing the launch of the product at VMworld.
We are satisfied, based on the progress that has been made, that it is something we're happy to announce will go into beta in Q4. We're sufficiently advanced in solving the problem to be very comfortable with that timeframe. We've been on this for a while.
*In a separate email exchange, VMware would say only that it contracted with a third party, Active Networks, for the VMworld registration page, and that Active Networks uses VMware as well as other vendors to deliver its product.