Dell-VMware beat the hybrid cloud drum

Profile picture for user kmarko By Kurt Marko May 1, 2019
Summary:
Getting to grips with the latest hybrid cloud gambit from Dell and VMware.

Airship over clouds 3D illustration © Michael Rosskothen - shutterstock

Dell Technologies continues its expansion into a vertically integrated IT supermart, using its annual customer and PR event to announce several new products, services and vendor partnerships that turn Dell hardware and VMware software into a hybrid cloud platform that can now be extended to both AWS and Azure.

Under the generic-sounding branding of Dell Technologies Cloud, it combines Dell EMC VxRail hyperconverged (HCI) systems running the VMware Cloud Foundation Stack with a new VMware Cloud on Dell EMC service to create a VMware-managed cloud stack that can be delivered on-premises or deployed on public cloud infrastructure. The composite offering is a logical extension of VMware's existing hybrid cloud products, notably VMware Cloud on AWS that adds hardware provisioning and management and mirrors similar products from Microsoft (Azure Stack) and AWS (Outposts).

Dell echoes a hybrid cloud theme we saw with Google earlier in April and AWS and Oracle last fall. Indeed, every major technology vendor has acknowledged the desires of cloud buyers, particularly in large enterprises, for the freedom and flexibility to run workloads on multiple environments, with the efficiency and simplicity of a consistent set of services, application and management interfaces and operations console. Of course, each differs in their approach, with some, like Google, focusing on containers and associated orchestration services as a fungible multi-cloud currency with others, notably VMware and Dell basing hybrid products on VMs to exploit their dominance in enterprise data centers.

In support of its strategy, Dell cites IDC research finding that at least 70% of companies use multiple cloud environments, however, few are enamored with the prospect of managing disparate systems with different management interfaces. According to VMware’s internal polling (caution, selection bias alert), 83% of cloud users would like a consistent operating model across environments (I’m  actually surprised it’s not higher)

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On these points, both Dell-VMware and Microsoft agree, indeed to the point of a Dell’s Founder and CEO, Michael Dell, parroting the 3-year old words of Microsoft’s VP of Azure Infrastructure and Management, Mike Neil (emphasis added):

  • Neil, January 26, 2016: “To manage this complexity, Microsoft believes enterprises have to approach cloud as a model – not a place. This model cuts across infrastructure, applications and people, and requires a hybrid cloud approach that provides consistency across private, hosted, and public clouds.
  • Dell, April 29, 2016: “The increasingly diverse cloud landscape is resulting in an enormous amount of IT complexity, and no one is more qualified or capable to help customers solve this challenge than Dell Technologies. Cloud is not a destination; it’s an operating model.”

 

Although the two differ in their preferred operating model, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ve found a way to accommodate each other’s efforts, most recently with new support for VMware Cloud on Azure (more on that below). IDC’s survey also finds that over time, enterprises would like move workloads to both private and public cloud environments (+4 percent each), however private cloud has an almost 2:1 advantage as the preferred location. Several reasons are behind this, including a real or perceived cost advantage, tighter control over security and operating conditions, better performance for applications accessing local databases and concern over complying with various data privacy regulations around the world. Note that I have previously written of my skepticism about the false equivalence between private and public cloud services, however it is true that products like VMware Cloud and Microsoft Azure Stack have now blurred the differences. 

Source: VMware slide deck, Introducing VMware Cloud on Dell EMC

What's new?

VMware revealed its multi-cloud vision last year and took the first steps towards its fruition with the VMware cloud on AWS launch. At the Dell event this week, the siblings (recall that Dell owns 80 percent of VMware after buying the VMware tracking stock spun out as part of its EMC acquisition) the next step by announcing an evolution of that service into a full-fledged managed multi-cloud offering to include on-premises hardware, software and support. The key elements of the Dell-VMware Cloud are:

  • Managed hardware to include VxRail HCI systems and other Dell products that are procured, delivered, installed, operated and supported by VMware are part of the cloud service.
  • Managed VMware Cloud Foundation software stack that includes compute (vSphere), storage (VSAN) and networking (NSX).
  • Operations and support including cloud management, hardware dispatch and repair and front-line customer calls.
  • Cloud financial model where Dell-VMware owns the infrastructure and customers pay for resource capacity via a monthly or annual subscription.

 

As part of a multi-faceted announcement with Microsoft that also included a client device management component, VMware is extending its support for public cloud infrastructure to Azure. The new Azure VMware Solutions will allow deploying Cloud Foundation infrastructure to Azure and migrating on-premises workloads without modification. Similar to the VMware Cloud on AWS product, Azure infrastructure is managed via the same console used for on-premises systems, however unlike with AWS, the Azure infrastructure is not dedicated to and managed by AWS, but according to Azure’s FAQ, managed by Microsoft. As with AWS, Azure-hosted workloads can access external Azure application, AI, IoT and platform services.

 

Source: VMware slide deck, Introducing VMware Cloud on Dell EMC

Kit Colbert, VP and CTO of VMware’s Cloud Platform business unit says the company sees four primary scenarios where its new on-premises cloud service will prove particularly appealing to enterprises.

  1. Data center modernization and cloud upgrades.
  2. Edge infrastructure at remote locations to improve application latency or as associated with IoT devices and applications.
  3. Data privacy regulatory compliance in different jurisdictions.
  4. Application modernization to use API-driven cloud services.

 

In support of scenario 2, Dell-VMware released an SD-WAN appliance that bundles Dell hardware and VMware’s VeloCloud SD-WAN software, along with a set of related design and implementation services.

Source: VMware slide deck, Introducing VMware Cloud on Dell EMC.

My take

The VMware on-premises cloud service and its extension to Azure was presaged last summer at VMworld when the company revealed its multi-cloud strategy and Project Dimension development efforts. As I wrote at the time, As I wrote at the time (emphasis added),

By providing a standard infrastructure foundation that can be deployed across an enterprise and potentially on other IaaS like Azure, GCP or Alibaba Cloud, Project Dimension could make VMware the standard infrastructure abstraction layer that enables workload portability across different providers In VMware’s idealized world, differences between cloud service providers are blurred and enterprises interact with a VMware substrate, whether that’s Dimension-vSphere infrastructure services or PKS container services. In the new model, VMware might end up being the standard virtual infrastructure that rides atop public clouds (and on-premise systems), but those same cloud service providers might, in turn, run their higher-level PaaS, database, analytics and AI services atop the VMware substrate.

Exploiting Dell EMC’s design and logistical expertise to customize, provision and deploy on-premises systems to run a VMware-managed cloud service is a natural synergy of their close business relationship. Indeed, the tight coupling between the two provides a differentiating advantage over Microsoft Azure Stack, which relies on third-party qualified systems, and resembles what AWS does with Outposts, which uses AWS-designed and managed hardware. Where VMware’s cloud message is rational and sensible, Dell’s overuse of the term to embellish virtually every product or service announcement at its event is both muddled and disingenuous, a form of cloud-washing that I thought was behind the industry at this point. Indeed, it’s hard to know if “Dell Technologies Cloud” is a new service (wait, I thought that was VMware Cloud on Dell) or the company’s new name.

Of course, things get tangled and confusing when one publicly traded company owns 80 percent of another, but VMware remains a quasi- and nominally-independent company that does provide and manage the cloud service. Indeed, what happens to the Dell Cloud when some large VMware customers decide they would really like the managed cloud service deployed on some repurposed, but relatively modern HP Enterprise, Lenovo or Nutanix systems? There’s no reason VMware couldn't extend its service this way (similar to Azure Stack’s multi-platform support) with enough financial incentives.

Messaging aside, VMware’s on-premises service should prove popular with customers committed to its software stack, however those that have decided to pursue a more modern design using containers and Kubernetes will find Google’s Anthos product a better fit (see my coverage here). Indeed, containers were notably missing from the announcements, something VMware needs to rectify at VMworld and explain how containers, Kubernetes and PKS, its container-based Cloud Foundry PaaS that can run on-premises or on Google’s GKE service, fit into its on-premises cloud service portfolio.