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VCloud Air becomes a role player in VMware's cloud strategy

VCloud Air never got much traction in the public cloud market and now it's being relegated to a bit player in the latest tweak to VMware's cloud strategy.

LAS VEGAS -- As VMware looks to improve how enterprises run and manage environments across myriad clouds, its one-time flagship public cloud has been quietly moved to the background.

VMware has reworked some of its services so customers can build VMware clouds on scores of partner platforms around the world, and it's working on technology to manage and migrate workloads across the biggest public clouds. The combined capabilities, packaged as the Cross-Cloud Architecture, reflect an acknowledgement that VMware's previous strategy to keep everything within its ecosystem didn't match the realities of an emerging multicloud world, and thus relegates vCloud Air to a niche player within its own public cloud play.

One of the best examples of this new reality is in the roll out of the VMware Cloud Foundation, which will act as a software-defined data center (SDDC) platform for running as a service clouds on-premises or in vCloud Air Network environments. The service will launch with its first public cloud connection this month, but it won't be to vCloud Air -- that designation is reserved for IBM Cloud, which expands on the two sides' partnership for running vSphere and vCenter on SoftLayer that became available earlier this year.

"For us, vCloud Air is just another provider and it happens to be an internal VMware provider, but our role is software first and then have each partner focus on their unique value," said Ajay Patel, VMware senior vice president of product development, cloud services.

VCloud Air is closely tied to traditional hardware with EMC storage, so it was easier to extend the SoftLayer partnership and emphasize new capabilities with NSX as the overlay network, Patel said. VCloud Air and other public clouds are expected to be available through the Cloud Foundation in the final quarter of 2016.

SoftLayer is becoming what I think their hope was for vCloud Air.
Eric Hanselmanchief analyst, 451 Research

"There's been a tacit acknowledgement that there hasn't been the action they would have hoped for," said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at 451 Research, in New York. "That said, SoftLayer is becoming what I think their hope was for vCloud Air."

VMware has always maintained that the private data center will remain central to IT, and public cloud should act, in many ways, as an extension of those environments. It's the inverse of how market leader Amazon Web Services sees the future, and there hasn't been any real talk of vCloud Air being a major public cloud player for years.

There was initially a heavy push behind what was first called vCloud Hybrid Service and later rebranded as vCloud Air, but for the past year or so there have been scant additions to the platform, even as the largest public cloud providers have added hundreds to their own. A partnership tying vCloud Air to several advanced Google cloud services fizzled, and the headliner cloud news from last year's VMworld -- the ability to do cross-cloud live migration -- was downplayed this year as more of a "sexy demo" than a capability customers would be clamoring for.

Patel said VMware "over-pivoted by talking about our small service and forgot to talk about our larger ecosystem of partners," and that vCloud Air is now concentrated on three specific use cases: data center extension via NSX, data center replacement and disaster recovery.

"If you don't fit into that small window, you are not a customer," Patel said. "We ourselves want to be a software provider to enable services through our partners."

Targeted message received by IT shops

Those narrow use cases did resonate with some VMworld attendees, many of whom are still in the early stages of exploring cloud infrastructure and see the value in being able to port what they already have to a familiar environment.

Lincoln Memorial University, in Harrogate, Tenn., was a vSphere user that began the process of moving to vCloud Air six months ago when it hit a refresh cycle.

"Being able to predict future growth is difficult, so when we need to increase infrastructure there's substantial cost," said Jason McConnell, Lincoln Memorial CIO.

The college has about 20% of its infrastructure on vCloud Air, and plans to have 100% on the platform by the fall of 2017. The transition has been smooth, especially since they established a dedicated connection and could encapsulate the data via a VPN.

Lincoln Memorial looked at Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the other major public clouds, but the ability to "drag and drop" workloads to vCloud Air made it the most attractive option, McDonnell said. The small liberal arts school also didn't need many of the higher-level services increasingly offered on those platforms, but not on vCloud Air.

For those customers that do want the ability to do next-generation applications, the tech preview of Cross-Cloud Services gave a peek into how VMware wants to act as a bridge to manage workloads in AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

Exactly how that will work successfully is still murky, but clearly the mega clouds are running faster than anything VMware was doing in this space, and the company's message around hybrid attempts to strike a balance between its existing revenue streams and where the market is headed, said Sid Nag, research director at Gartner.

"They're kind of playing defense on the cloud side," Nag said. "They realize they have to do something to avoid becoming an irrelevant company but, at the same time, also don't want to lose their on-prem private cloud stack SDDC story.

"How do they help customers get the comfort that VMware is also a cloud player? That's the whole message this week."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected].

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