Although this has been long-rumored, and then was formally mentioned in VMware’s recent investor day, VMware has only just formally announced the vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS), which is VMware’s foray into the public cloud IaaS market.
VMware has previously had a strategy of being an arms dealer to service providers who wanted to offer cloud IaaS. In addition to the substantial ecosystem of providers who use VMware virtualization as part of various types of IT outsourcing offerings, VMware also signed up a lot of vCloud Powered partners, each of which offered what was essentially vCloud Director (vCD) as a service. It also certified a number of the larger providers as vCloud Datacenter Service Providers; each such provider needed to meet criteria for reliability, security, interoperability, and so forth. In theory, this was a sound channel strategy. In practice, it didn’t work.
Of the certified providers, only CSC has managed to get substantial market share, with Bluelock trailing substantially; the others haven’t gotten much in the way of traction, Dell has now dropped their offering entirely, and neither Verizon nor Terremark ended up launching the service. Otherwise, VMware’s most successful service providers — providers like Terremark, Savvis, Dimension Data, and Virtustream — have been the ones who chose to use VMware’s hypervisor but not its cloud management platform (in the form of vCD).
Indeed, those successful service providers (let’s call them the clueful enterprise-centric providers) are the ones that have built the most IP themselves — and not only are they resistant to buying into vCD, but they are increasingly becoming hypervisor-neutral. Even CSC, which has staunchly remained on VMware running on VCE Vblocks, has steadily reduced its reliance on vCD, bringing in a new portal, service catalog, orchestration engine, and so forth. Similarly, Tier 3 has vCD under the covers, but never so much as exposed the vCD portal to customers. (I think the industry has come to a broad consensus that vCD is too complex of a portal for nearly all customers. Everyone successful, even VMware themselves with vCHS, is front-ending their service with a more user-friendly portal, even if customers who want it can request to use vCD instead.)
In other words, even while VMware remains a critical partner for many of its service providers, those providers are diversifying their technology away from VMware — their success will be, over time, less and less VMware’s success, especially if they’re primarily paying for hypervisor licenses, and not the rest of VMware’s IT operations management (ITOM) tools ecosystem. The vCloud Powered providers that are basically putting out vanilla vCD as a service aren’t getting significant traction in the market — not only can they not compete with Amazon, but they can’t compete against clueful enterprise-centric providers. That means that VMware can’t count on them as a significant revenue stream in the future. And meanwhile, VMware has finally gotten the wake-up call that Amazon’s (and AWS imitators) increasing claim on “shadow IT” is a real threat to VMware’s future not only in the external cloud, but also in internal data centers.
That brings us to today’s reality: VMware is entering the public cloud IaaS market themselves, with an offering intended to compete head-to-head with its partners as well as Amazon and the whole constellation of providers that don’t use VMware in their infrastructure.
VMware’s thinking has clearly changed over the time period that they’ve spent developing this solution. What started out as a vanilla vCD solution intended to enable channel partners who wanted to deliver managed services on top of a quality VMware offering, has morphed into a differentiated offering that VMware will take to market directly as well as through their channel — including taking credit cards on a click-through sign-up for by-the-hour VMs, although the initial launch is a monthly resource-pool model. Furthermore, their benchmark for price-competitiveness is Amazon, not the vCloud providers. (Their hardware choices reflect this, too, including their choice to use EMC software but going scale-out architecture and commodity hardware across the board, rather than much more expensive and much less scalable Vblocks.)
Fundamentally, there is virtually no reason for providers who sell vanilla vCD without any value-adds to continue to exist. VMware’s vCHS will, out of the gate, be better than what those providers offer, especially with regard to interopability with internal VMware deployments — VMware’s key advantage in this market. Even someone like a Bluelock, who’s done a particularly nice implementation and has a few value-adds, will be tremendously challenged in this new world. The clueful providers who happen to use VMware’s hypervisor technology (or even vCD under the covers) will continue on their way just fine — they already have differentiators built into their service, and they are already well on the path to developing and owning their own IP and working opportunistically with best-of-breed suppliers of capabilities.
(There will, of course, continue to be a role for vCloud Powered providers who really just use the platform as cloud-enabled infrastructure — i.e., providers who are mostly going to do managed services or one sort or another, on top of that deployment. Arguably, however, some of those providers may be better served, over the long run, offering those managed services on top of vCHS instead.)
No one should underestimate the power of brand in the cloud IaaS market, particularly since VMware is coming to market with something real. VMware has a rich suite of ITOM capabilities that it can begin to build into an offering. It also has CloudFoundry, which it will integrate, and would logically be as synergistic with this offering as any other IaaS/PaaS integration (much as Microsoft believes Azure PaaS and IaaS elements are synergistic).
I believe that to be a leader in cloud IaaS, you have to develop your own software and IP. As a cloud IaaS provider, you cannot wait for a vendor to do their next big release 12-18 months from now and then take another 6-12 months to integrate it and upgrade to it — you’ll be a fatal 24 months behind a fast-moving market if you do that. VMware’s clueful service providers have long since come to this realization, which is why they’ve moved away from a complete dependence on VMware. Now VMware itself has to ensure that their cloud IaaS offering has a release tempo that is far faster than the software they deliver to enterprises. That, I think, will be good for VMware as a whole, but it will also be a challenge for them going forward.
VMware can be successful in this market, if they really have the wholehearted will to compete. Yes, their traditional buying center is the deeply untrendy and much-maligned IT Operations admin, but if anyone would be the default choice for that population (which still controls about a third of the budget for cloud services), it’s VMware — and VMware is playing right into that story with its emphasis on easy movement of workloads across VMware-based infrastructures, which is the story that these guys have been wanting to hear all along and have been waiting for someone to actually deliver.
Hello, vCHS! Good-bye, vCloud Powered?