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VMware vCloud Suite takes a centralized approach to cloud computing

The OpenStack community cloud model isn't for every enterprise. VMware vCloud Suite's centralized approach to cloud appeals to some IT pros.

If OpenStack is the embodiment of the community cloud model, then VMware vCloud Suite is an example of a focused, single-vendor cloud. The goal of vCloud is to create a data center that's completely virtual -- all resources, all locations. And while vCloud is neither free, open source, hypervisor-agnostic nor backed by a consortium of vendors, it could be a good choice for companies that see the benefit in commercial software's documentation, centralized support and focused development and enhancement.

VMware vCloud Suite creates a virtual data center defined by software, and it is close to a completely transparent resource pool. It also aims to link the cloud to productivity and business agility value at all levels, unlike the positioning for most cloud computing services, which tends to focus on the public cloud or on a simple extension to virtualization. The cloud platform builds on the wide success of VMware Inc.'s virtualization products -- vSphere and vMotion.

vCloud's focus on management and operations may be a compelling benefit if, as expected, enterprises buy their cloud services to supplement their internal data centers.

The vCloud Suite has four major functional areas:

  1. Cloud infrastructure. The hub of the infrastructure is vCloud Director and vCloud Connector, which provide hybrid cloud support. The vSphere virtualization platform and its components manage the cloud's resources.
  2. Cloud service provisioning. The vCloud Automation Center and Application Director manage the automation of cloud operations tasks.
  3. Cloud operations management. The vCenter Operations Management Suite provides for the normal fault and configuration management tasks and tools for cloud capacity and performance planning.
  4. Cloud business management. The vCenter Chargeback Manager allows users to control cloud cost allocation for private clouds and billing for public cloud services.

While hypervisor-agnostic cloud stacks must create a unified cloud from divergent or even missing resource virtualization capabilities in various hypervisors, vCloud simply builds on vSphere. vCloud's primary resource control and virtualization is contained in vSphere and simply extended by vCloud, which eases existing VMware customers into cloud. With this hypervisor uniformity, vCloud Connector easily creates hybrid clouds, and documentation can be detailed because procedures won't be altered by hypervisor changes. From an application perspective, whatever works in VMware's vSphere-related products will work in vCloud.

The most conspicuous aspect of vCloud is its focus on the operational side of the cloud. Where most cloud stacks either consider operations tools such as DevOps to be separate projects often only loosely tied to their main development, VMware has clearly integrated operations into vCloud.

Where does VMware vCloud go from here?

With VMware's stronghold on existing virtualization customers, its operational efficiencies could compel enterprise IT toward vCloud. VMware has worked hard to overcome OpenStack's early lead in virtual networking. Its purchase of virtual networking vendor Nicira gives VMware the tools to create multi-tenant cloud data centers and to manage tenant and application connectivity with complete independence using cloud-integrated tools.

OpenStack's Quantum requires vendor-specific plug-ins to link the cloud to the network; vCloud can use its Nicira tools to run partitioned virtual networks over any vendor infrastructure. Network-partitioned multi-tenancy, supported by the Nicira acquisition, is also a requirement shared by buyers and sellers of cloud services.

vCloud's focus on management and operations may be a compelling benefit if, as expected, enterprises buy their cloud services to supplement their internal data centers -- for backup and work offload during peak periods. Expanding and contracting cloud resources to suit workloads is a complex process that could easily generate configuration errors, taking down entire applications.

Enterprises wouldn't tolerate this, and it's something cloud providers must avoid by integrating management across the hybrid cloud boundary. The vCloud approach can make that easier; it ensures that explicit management of hybrid clouds creates a single cloud stack and management tool set in both the data center and in the public cloud.

But VMware also risks the classic death by a thousand cuts. The major IT vendors are now all getting into the cloud on their own. Cisco's cloud aspirations and VMware's purchase of Nicira have already strained the Cisco/VMware partnership. Other IT players, including HP, IBM and Oracle, may move further from VMware to promote their own cloud vision, and that may encourage their customers to adopt other virtualization tools. Such a move might balkanize the open cloud platform space completely, driving it in too many directions at once. If it does, vCloud is likely to be there, concentrating on building from the present-day virtualization to the cloud of the future -- which many enterprise and cloud provider buyers will find comforting.

About the author
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corp., a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982.

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Where/how does vFabric fit with vCloud? Are they synergistic, interdependent, conflicting, or separate offerings?