Sometimes, you see a phrase that makes you pause and think. I tripped over this one, courtesy of Justin Warren, who was commenting on the recent VMworld announcements.
The phrase made me think. Thinking is good. Thank you, Justin.
VMware was founded in 1998. It was acquired by EMC over 12 years ago. Next week, EMC disappears and becomes part of Dell. Life moves on. VMware has been very successful in helping to define what "private cloud" means inside a data center.
Amazon Web Services was publicly launched in 2006, a decade ago. It too has been wildly successful, and has helped to define what "public cloud" means outside of data centers.
Both can reasonably be described as "legacy", if nothing else than through age and maturity alone. Both could be described as providing infrastructure as a service, or IaaS. They also can be described as two competing industry forces attempting to capture each other's territory.
When it comes to enterprise IT, I can't make the argument that either is "winning" the IaaS wars. It appears to be a standoff, with no clear road ahead.
So, what might be next?
So here's my list when it comes to enterprise IaaS:
Public Vs. Private? No, Public And Private
Public cloud IaaS services have their strong and weak points. On-premises private cloud IaaS has their strong and weak points. Attempting to hybridize them at scale means you've signed up to be in the systems integration business, as they use fundamentally different models.
Remember when we had IT silos around mainframe, UNIX and Windows? And nothing really worked together all that well? Same story, different chapter.
Both VMware and AWS are doing their level best to capture each other's territory. VMware shows demos of NSX interoperating with AWS. They add container and OpenStack support on top of their foundational hypervisor.
AWS positions itself to be as attractive as possible for cloud-native developers. Lambda, anyone? They promote a variety of migration tools and programs to ship those VMware VMs to their cloud.
So, if we're answering the question "what's next?", one part of the answer might be a single architecture and set of services at both ends of the wire (on-premises and off-premises), designed to be used together.
The only choice left would be the desired consumption model: opex or capex, on-prem or not.
Applications: Past, Present and Future
One of its defining attributes is -- unfortunately -- a very broad application portfolio. If you've never patiently gone through a large enterprise's production application portfolio, you don't know the huge fun you're missing.
Some of it is prepackaged stuff from another era. Some of it is home grown, maybe with tools from the last decade. Some of it might be described as somewhat contemporary in architecture and tool set. Then there's the bright and shiny world of containers, microservices and "serverless" architectures.
And not all of it can conveniently run in an elastic x86 VM :)
So if all those enterprise application workloads are going to move to a cloud of some sort, that cloud will have to offer *very* broad support for multiple application models: past, present and future.
Lest you think that the future model will be dozens of clouds, optimized for different application models, that just brings up back to IT being in the systems integration business once again, just this time across dozens of cloud service providers.
Not an attractive scenario.
So, as we're contemplating "what's next?", another part of the answer might be having a cloud service with the ability to support a very wide breadth of infrastructure models.
A set of IaaS services that reflect the harsh reality of the typical enterprise application portfolio and its challenging diversity.
Control Planes Matter
Another key area where IT is different is their mandate to control the enterprise computing environment. Security management, application monitoring, resource consumption, financial management, and so on.
It doesn't matter where the computing is actually done, what does matter is that enterprise IT organizations are responsible for outcomes -- and being in control. To do this, they invest in people, process and tooling.
Now consider most public clouds: they have their own way of doing things, don't they? Once again, we're back to this unpleasant scenario of multiple, competing control planes as well as investing in significant systems integration to hopefully make it all work together again.
Back to our rumination about "what's next": how about the ability to easily extend current and future enterprise IT control planes with a public cloud service?
One thing that is endemic with many IT professionals is avoiding the feeling that they're locked in. Yes, there's always some friction involved with moving something from A to B and then C. But I would also argue that there's a clear opportunity for friction reduction.
On-premises virtualized workloads should be relatively easy to move from on-premises to IT's choice of public cloud provider. And back again, if desired.
Containerized applications should be able to be moved across public clouds, or be run on-premises if that's what is desired.
Once again, as we consider "what's next?", part of the answer could be around seriously reducing the friction associated with these tasks. I am a realist, though. Friction can be minimized, but not eliminated. And various forms of perceived lock-in will be with us for a very long time.
Moving Beyond Legacy Cloud
I don't think VMware will ever be a serious player in the public cloud, despite their desperate desire to do so.
Maybe they can recruit folks like IBM to supply the hardware behind their software, but that's essentially a marriage of convenience, and certainly not a strategic play.
I don't think AWS understands enterprise IT, and what the world looks like through that lens. Given their growth rates elsewhere, maybe they don't need to.
AWS and their services can certainly be part of the answer, but I just can't see them being "the answer".
I believe that there's a clear gap in the market when it comes to IaaS and what's next.
Simply put, the world needs an IaaS that works the way enterprise IT does.
Warts and all.
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