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AWS, VMware shops clear hybrid cloud migration hurdles

Cloud migration is step one in setting up a hybrid cloud infrastructure -- but it can often be a sticky wicket.

Hybrid cloud migration challenges can stop a project before it starts, despite recent technical developments from native and third-party tools.

Tools that move data and apps from on-premises installations to the public cloud (and, in some cases, out again) have gotten quite a bit of attention over the last two years and comprise the area of hybrid cloud management where Amazon Web Services (AWS) and VMware have concentrated the most resources on development.

Thus, there are native tools that offer vSphere virtual machine (VM) import into AWS. The AWS Management Portal for vCenter, which allows the management of some aspects of an AWS environment through the VMware vSphere management interface, is one. But while it does support the migration of virtual machines into AWS, there are limitations outlined in AWS documentation. For example, VMs with multiple disks cannot be imported through the tool.

Furthermore, AWS documentation says the Management Portal "is not a comprehensive tool for creating and managing AWS resources." Instead, it gives vCenter users a way to get started quickly with basic tasks, such as creating a VPC and subnet, and launching an EC2 instance. For advanced tasks, users must use the AWS Management Console, AWS CLI or an AWS SDK.

Amazon has made strides in recent months to support larger amounts of import data, from an increase in the number of concurrent migrations supported with an update to the VM Import API in April to the launch of AWS Import /Export Snowball this month. It also launched the Database Migration Service and the Database Schema Conversion tool, both of which will also aid in hybrid cloud migrations.

However, critics of these tools point out that they still cannot be used to support the orchestrated migration of complex, multi-tiered apps from a VMware to an AWS environment. Granted, the process of migrating multi-tiered applications is not rinse and repeat, as customers will have unique requirements, but it represents the next frontier in easing the transition from on-premises private cloud to a hybrid cloud scenario, according to Ian Perez Ponce, an independent IT consultant who has worked for VMware as well as Zerto, a virtual data replication software maker.

"There is still that challenge of being able to have bulk parallel uploads, whether it's hundreds of VMs or thousands of VMs, especially if it has to be coordinated or orchestrated," Ponce said.

There is still that challenge of being able to have bulk parallel uploads, whether it's hundreds of VMs or thousands of VMs, especially if it has to be coordinated or orchestrated.
Ian Perez Ponceindependent IT consultant

VMware, meanwhile, offers cross-cloud monitoring with its vRealize Suite, with a cost calculator and cloud automation software slated for release this quarter. However, when it comes to migrating VMs from vSphere to AWS, there are several tools that specialize in moving VMs or applications to an offsite location in a public cloud. "VRealize Automation can invoke and orchestrate these tools as part of moving or copying the resources to another location," according to a VMware spokesperson. In other words, VMware's tools won't handle that cloud migration on their own.

VMware's vCloud Connector supports the migration of multi-tiered applications and even allows for different tiers of apps to be kept on different sides of the private/public cloud equation, but vCloud Connector doesn't support migrations into AWS today.

Getting past step one with third-party cloud migration tools

Given the limitations of native tools, a third-party ecosystem has sprung up around cloud migration, with offerings from vendors including Unitrends Inc., Racemi, RiverMeadow Software Inc., HotLink Corp. and Zerto, most of which have overcome the limitations of native import/export tools. But it means more cooks in the hybrid cloud management kitchen, and some things still just don't translate between environments.

There are some vendors out there that have solved migration quite well, according to Ponce, but one of the areas where those solutions haven't even scratched the surface is around configuration metadata on VMs, [which] may boot things like network services.

"The things that you configure in a VMware environment for a VM that are outside of a VM are very much an issue in terms of how you translate that into something that's AWS-friendly," Ponce said.

Third-party tools are also often brought in to analyze the existing environment and inform decisions about what is to be moved, and those tools need work, too, according to Patrick McClory, director of automation and DevOps for Datapipe, a provider of managed hosting services for AWS based in Jersey City, N.J.

"I'm really disappointed in a vast majority of the tools out there, because they run old-school data center technologies," said McClory. "To the point that you're looking at a data center migration it makes a little bit of sense … but [not] to the level of depth where we get a great view of not just what to move but how to move it, what order we should move it -- there's still a lot of experiential overlay that we have to put on those to make sense of them."

Hybrid cloud migration tools also don't necessarily address fundamental incompatibilities between on-premises and public cloud-based resources, either, McClory said. For example, moving Microsoft's SharePoint from VMware to AWS can be an arduous process regardless of how advanced the tools.

"I would love to move SharePoint to something running on Windows machines in AWS and use [the Relational Database Service (RDS)], but SharePoint requires access to the master database," McClory said. "So you can't use RDS, which means you have to build your own SQL Server database cluster."

For these reasons, the notion of moving workloads smoothly into and out of both ends of a hybrid cloud, particularly in a mixed environment, such as a vSphere private cloud and an AWS public cloud, is a pipe dream for now, even for the most advanced hybrid cloud users.

This was a lesson learned the hard way for Alex Witherspoon, VP of platform engineering for FlightStats Inc., a global data service company in the aviation space, located in Portland, Ore., which has a large hybrid environment based on VMware and AWS.

"When we take a VMware image, any VMware image, and move it into AWS, we're ultimately taking something that wasn't designed for AWS and plopping it into AWS, and we're usually missing a lot of the really cool integrations," Witherspoon said. "[Amazon Identity and Access Management] gets a little funny for security, things like even storage can get a little funny just replicating the data over and kind of hoping it works."

Instead, Witherspoon's shop prefers the control they get with an on-premises VMware environment where high-performance hardware can be selected and tuned, and leaves much of its data crunching operations out of the AWS public cloud.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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