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Languishing in public cloud as other vendors push ahead with their platforms, VMware finally appears to be hitting its stride with a hybrid strategy to lure enterprises to the cloud.
VMware rolled out a new set of features this week aimed at improving networking and creating a unified platform as part of its most full-throated push for hybrid cloud yet. And while the company still lags behind other public cloud vendors in both feature sets and revenues, analysts say the company is headed in the right direction after years of missteps and slow response to market demands.
VMware has slowly brought vCloud Air in line with vSphere and the rest of its products, and this is another step in that direction, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research, based in New York.
"It's not all the way there, but they're getting closer to having the same ability as what you have with a virtualized instance," Brooks said.
Key components of the unified platform are more cloud-friendly versions of vSphere, Virtual SAN, and hybrid networking with NSX, according to VMware. All of the updates are expected to be available in the first quarter of 2015.
Customers also can use VMware Integrated OpenStack, which is free for customers with vSphere Enterprise Plus, vSphere with Operations Management Enterprise and vCloud Suite. However, production-level technical support costs $200 per CPU, with a minimum of 50 CPUs.
Hybrid clouds are hard to do, and uncertainty around performance guarantees when extending networks to the cloud has kept many enterprises away, said Bob Plankers, a virtualization architect for a major Midwestern university. He uses VMware products on-premises but doesn't use any of the public cloud features available through vCloud Air.
"That's a lot of mental friction for an enterprise to consider and enterprises have got enough on their plate already," Plankers said. "Most people that want to do hybrid cloud stuff end up completely in the public cloud."
Carl Brooksanalyst, 451 Research, LLC, based in New York
But VMware is doing interesting things around identical experiences on-premises and in the cloud, Plankers said. It's a strategy that could be effective if the vendor can reduce that friction and understand that most enterprises can't or won't rewrite all their applications just for the sake of being in public cloud, he added.
"It's nice to see VMware stepping up its game," Plankers said. "For a while, it seemed like they were just languishing and it was becoming hard to justify using them if the feature set was not there, but clearly they've been working on things behind the scenes."
Most of the updates were "par for the course," but the more important aspect was how quickly it followed the last round of feature rollouts, Brooks said. VMware historically took up to 18 months on its product cycle, but the speed at which the company is updating and expanding its portfolio now is closer to the rest of the cloud industry.
In its annual report issued last month, VMware told investors its hybrid cloud and software as a service features made up less than 5% of its $1.7 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2014. However, company officials also noted that cloud had become the largest area of growth, with more than 100% year-over-year increase for the quarter.
After many early mistakes with its cloud platform, VMware is finally showing competency with its strategy, and by binding vSphere to vCloud Air, it wants to be seen by enterprises as the trusted brand for both services, Brooks said.
Those moves, along with the recent partnerships with Rackspace and Google and improved messaging with partners in the vCloud Air Network, show the vendor is ready to make a serious push around hybrid, he added.
"They've managed to set the table. Now, they're putting out the dinner and the treats and hoping people will come to eat," Brooks said.
VMware NSX to play key role
Building on capabilities rolled out last month, VMware is expanding its networking capabilities with a single network domain for both public and private cloud deployments in vCloud Air. VMware's NSX will now be the network foundation for the platform and will be phased in during the first half of 2015, the company said.
Network virtualization remains VMware's bread and butter, so merging vSphere and vCloud Air will be the company's best move for remaining a part of the data center, while allowing customers to do what they want with their applications, said Andrew Smith, an analyst with Technology Business Research (TBR), Inc., based in Hampton, N.H.
"It's about VMware defending its traditional install base and enabling them to port over to any cloud deployment they need and still have the VMware stack and be the enabler and base for their data center," Smith said.
NSX isn't cutting-edge networking, as it's more of a complimentary asset for those already using vSphere, said Geoff Woollacott, practice manager and principal analyst for TBR.
"It's not unique, but it's a solid adjacent product that is at least good enough," Woollacott said.
The moves around NSX and a more seamless hybrid cloud experience are smart, but the remaining gap in the strategy is that VMware is too focused on customers keeping their hybrid workloads within the vendor's ecosystem, said Paul Burns, industry analyst and president of Neovise, LLC, based in Fort Collins, Colo.
"For VMware customers this is awesome," Burns said. "But for a lot of customers, what they really want is to not just connect existing data centers to a VMware public cloud, but to any public cloud."
Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at email@example.com.