BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
LAS VEGAS -- Cloud users worried about vendor lock-in got a boost this week, as VMware takes another stab at simplifying hybrid cloud and multicloud environments.
The company released or previewed a handful of cloud-related capabilities that bundled or built on existing cloud services under the new umbrella of the Cross-Cloud Architecture. The new grouping would allow customers to have identical VMware environments across the company's cloud partner network, as well as manage and migrate workloads on other environments, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.
VMware painted the underlying services here at its VMworld conference this week -- Cloud Foundation for managing software-defined data center (SDDC) workloads in partners' public and private clouds, and Cross-Cloud Services for managing hyperscale cloud environments -- as a balancing act between allowing developers to work with their preferred platforms and having IT retain its ability to make security and policy decisions.
Acadian Companies, an ambulatory provider in Lafayette, La., used AWS four years ago, but it became too expensive, and the company wanted all of its workloads in the same environment, said Brian Smith, data infrastructure supervisor. Now, the company is almost entirely on premises, but these new services could allow Acadian to utilize the cloud in new ways.
"Now, with being able to move around [to different clouds], I don't feel like I'm having to invest in one and I'm locked in," Smith said.
Eric Hanselmanchief analyst, 451 Research
Cross-Cloud Architecture pulls together SDDC Manager and Hyper-Converged Systems Manager, along with integration with NSX and some vRealize tools on top for multicloud management. The service doesn't offer high-level management services, but it does provide the fundamentals around policy and security, said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst with 451 Research.
"The cloud services are the next step into making [software as a service] SaaS capabilities out of what has been primarily on premises," Hanselman said. "That's a necessity as they start looking into integration into a broader cloud world."
VMware Cloud Foundation takes the company's SDDC and makes it available as a service. The service is currently limited to IBM Cloud, which represents an expansion of the existing relationship with SoftLayer. The Foundation is expected to be extended to other vCloud Air Network partners, including vCloud Air. There are no immediate plans to extend the capability to AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform.
VMware's hybrid goals
For years, VMware has tried to address the hybrid cloud market, which has evolved slower than some anticipated -- and, in some examples, such as bursting, hasn't really materialized as a large-scale use case.
But hybrid is real, and it's going to be necessary in the near term, so it makes sense to go after that market, Hanselman said.
"It's a transitional element, and we're going to have to figure out how to live in a hybrid world for a while -- that's just the process of where we are overall [with] advancements of infrastructure," he said. "We're going to live with a lot of different execution venues, and we need to master management of that."
Cross-Cloud Services provides a common operating environment for management and migration capabilities across private clouds and public clouds, including AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform. The service is in technical preview, and there's no time frame for when it could be available to customers.
In many ways, this represents an extension of a philosophy VMware has tried to use with vRealize. Users can now manage AWS and Azure workloads with vRealize through an on-premises appliance for single-tenant use cases; plans to offer a SaaS version were eventually scuttled.
"While it's enabled to [manage AWS and Azure], it still requires a lot of heavy lifting, and the ongoing pursuit of everyone here is to make it easier," said Glenn O'Donnell, analyst at Forrester Research. "That's the whole management theme -- to make this as easy as possible; though, to this point, it's still been pretty hard."
One of the more intriguing pieces behind Cross-Cloud Services is the ability to migrate between cloud environments. The service, which relies on an NSX agent, would allow you to migrate between environments over the course of several hours.
The notion of a single place to manage cloud workloads and easily migrate between environments has been the Holy Grail of cloud since its inception, but such multicloud management remains far from a reality today. VMware, though, appears to be taking another swing at it with Cross-Cloud Services.
"It's a very complex problem, and it really comes down to the application," O'Donnell said. "Migrating an app from on premises to Amazon to Microsoft Azure -- there are lots of complications of getting to do that, and I don't think they've conquered all of that and reached the true promise of portability."
It's an attractive option for those trying to avoid lock-in, but VMware acknowledges it has limitations. Anyone using most of the higher-level services on these hyperscale platforms wouldn't be able to migrate them, so customers would need to either write their code to an opinionated platform as a service, or to an unopinionated VM or container.
"With a lot of pieces, it's just not possible, and it really comes down to how you write your code," O'Donnell said. "Code that is written for a .NET platform is going to work really well on Azure -- the others, not so much."
Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget. Contact him at email@example.com.
A guide to the VMworld 2016 conference in Las Vegas
Tackle the toughest multicloud management challenges
Tips to work effectively with multiple cloud vendors