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VMware Cloud on AWS advocates preach patience amid hype

VMware Cloud on AWS could push more companies to the public cloud, but the service is far from a finished product as more needs to be done to connect the two environments.

Many customers see the potential with VMware Cloud on AWS as a bridge to the public cloud, but they're still waiting for the biggest benefits to arrive.

Details about the VMware Cloud on AWS service were few and far between before last month's final release, and early access was extremely limited -- VMware joked that participation in the beta test was more exclusive than Ivy League admissions. But those who have worked closely with the service repeatedly expressed excitement -- and the need to temper early expectations -- in sessions and interviews at the VMworld conference in late August.

Sysco, the Houston-based food distributor, has a quarter of its IT resources in the public cloud, and most of that in AWS, spanning 1,200 servers and as many as 100 added each month.

Sysco initially moved some of its front-end systems to the cloud, and recently migrated its second largest ERP system as well -- which would have been a good candidate for the VMware Cloud on AWS had it been available sooner, said Matt Nikolaiev, senior director and head of cloud infrastructure at Sysco.

"It's a pretty complex platform with a lot of legacy infrastructure requirements," Nikolaiev said during a session on vRealize. "It's one of those workloads where we wish VMware on AWS was there because a lot of the services would have been a better fit."

Early promises of hybrid cloud, such as cloud bursting, were more marketing spin than practical capabilities, but this partnership opens the door to that being a reality, Nikolaiev said.

"You see what VMware has with the latest versions of its technology where you can do things like vMotion across Layer 3 and use NSX to stretch IPs across your public and private worlds -- it starts to become realistic if you locate your data center strategically," he said.

The biggest potential will come when developers can more easily access AWS tools, such as its database-as-a-service offerings, with milliseconds latency from their VMware environment, Nikolaiev said. Other trouble spots he hopes VMware can eventually resolve include network management and security costs across multiple environments, as well as cost management and governance.

VMworld attendees still have questions

Industry observers at the conference were impressed at the amount of joint engineering that went into the service. But like any early release, it has its limitations. There are questions about how tightly integrated the VMware environments are with those native Amazon cloud services, because the environments sit on actual instance types despite being billed as bare metal. There are also questions about how NSX will be incorporated into the AWS control plane.

In one session, a VMware engineer described the service as more akin to software as a service, where VMware owns and operates the underlying infrastructure.

Users need a VMware account and an AWS account, and they will connect the two via a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) to avoid the often expensive process of moving data back and forth. VMware also will have a presence within that VPC to allow VMs on premises to talk to machines in VMware Cloud on AWS.

And though the VMware software won't be forked over time, VMware will need to bridge different release cycles in the two environments. For example, vSphere and other services will be on a faster cadence than customers' on-premises software, and efforts to fully extend capabilities between the two disparate versions are ongoing.

The state of Louisiana also tested VMware Cloud on AWS and sees this service as a long-term solution to its IT capital costs, according to Michael Allison, CTO of the Office of Technology Services for the state. The beta process was a bit of a disappointment because of delays by VMware and the inability to take advantage of the full scope of services, but it did give his team a chance to be at the forefront of this technology and help shape what's to come, Allison said.

He cited Hurricane Harvey, which was bearing down on the region at the time, as the perfect example of the benefits of quickly extending to an AWS environment through this VMware partnership. In those scenarios, federal dollars are typically reserved for reactive spending than preparedness, so being able to quickly scale up after a storm hits would be critical, he said.

He wants to see more microsegmentation tagging via NSX so the state can securely access more AWS tools and services, and more flexibility to move back and forth between the two environments.

"We want more integration, we want all the bells and whistles upfront," Allison said. "But we know it's iterative and we have to be patient and build that foundation and strategy so when we move it's ready to go."

When asked in a press conference about how VMware will connect with some of the stickier Amazon cloud services, including serverless tools such as AWS Lambda, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger alluded to many more joint services yet to come, but declined to disclose any details about their shared roadmap.

"We're just scratching the surface of what's possible here," he said.

And maybe that slow drip of new releases will be acceptable for the target audience. Despite all the attention public cloud gets and the massive growth of AWS and others, it still only represents a minority of IT spending. And that contrast may be even starker among VMware's customer base, as 40% still aren't using the public cloud, according to the company's internal user survey.

Trevor Jones is a senior news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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