My corner of the internet broke for a while as a result. Before long, I was inevitably getting pinged by my Twitter brethren for a personal view.
I spent a few days thinking about it from various angles. Sorry to say, I come away with more negatives than positives.
Fair warning: I left EMC and VMware because I didn't see a viable cloud strategy. I joined Oracle on the strength of their cloud strategy. So far, it's played out exactly as I thought it would.
Not much has changed with my perspective since then. Including this latest press release.
What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been
The story of VMware trying to come up with a viable public cloud strategy is a long and torturous one.
vCloud Director. vCHS (also known as vCheese). vCloud Air 1. vCloud Air 2. EMC buying Virtuastream and mistakenly positioning it as "the answer", then backing down. The IBM deal. The loose affiliation of the vCloud Air Network.
And now this. Forgive me if I come across as just a teeny bit skeptical based on the story so far.
At a macro level, what we're seeing is obvious. The world is moving to a public cloud model. VMware's core product -- vSphere -- wasn't designed for public clouds. VMware -- the company -- is not structured as a public cloud provider. Hence the history of thrashing around, trying to come up with some sort of viable answer.
There are certainly a lot of heavy vSphere users that are hoping (praying?) that VMware can deliver a workable solution. So far, no dice.
I'll remind people: hope is not a strategy.
The Big Positives
VMware, the king of data center virtualization, inks an agreement with AWS, the king of public cloud infrastructure.
VMware gets the potential of a credible public cloud option, which it doesn't have today, AWS gets a potential entry into the enterprise IT world which it doesn't have today.
Everyone wins, birds sing and all is right with the world. Or is it?
The Big Negatives
First, there's the vague delivery schedule.
Sometime next year, we are told, there will be something to look at. Having been a behind-the-scenes veteran of multiple industry announcements, long and vague schedules usually mean significant amounts of work, technical risk, or -- usually -- both.
If they had something to show that would help establish credibility, they'd already be showing it. Trust me.
While we're waiting, we'll have to be content with powerpoint slides and optimistic blog posts.
Second, there's a vexing question.
VMware couldn't offer a viable cloud service when they were building infrastructure to their specifications (vCloud Air). What makes us think they can do better when running on someone else's infrastructure? Yes, they'll be using a new bare-metal service from AWS, but the devil is in the details.
And we won't know the details for quite a while.
Finally, there's time lost.
I know that there will be more than a few VMware faithful who will take this announcement to their leadership team and say "see, we have a plan for cloud now!". Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but it will take a year to figure out either way.
Meanwhile, their progress forward will be stalled due to a "market freeze" (e.g. wait, don't do anything, there's something big coming!). And that's unfortunate.
The Strategic View
VMware intends to offer this as their premiere cloud offering: sold and supported by VMware. Which means, of course, all the other infrastructure and IaaS vendors can move to the back of the line. Not exactly the most partner-friendly move. I can only imagine the conversations.
And VMware's current business model is heavily dependent on those partners today.
The intent of the service appears to precisely replicate on-premises VMware functionality. There's no new significant functionality being discussed as part of the service.
The problem? One of the big motivations to move to a public cloud is easy access to new functionality. That doesn't seem to be the case here. All we get is a new way to consume familiar VMs.
I feel a bit shortchanged. That means it's going to be all about the economics of the new service compared to doing things on-premises.
Amazon leaves a bit on the table. They've been investing in various software services (e.g. Redshift et. al.) in an attempt to differentiate from simple IaaS. None of that stuff runs in vSphere, nor has there ever been an inking that AWS would ever invest in doing that.
I wonder how long before AWS offers yet another "migrate your vSphere VMs to native AWS" promotion?
(update October 25th: not too long, it seems.)
VMware will have to teach and incentivize their salespeople to sell subscriptions and metered consumption vs. traditional software licenses. Not impossible, but not easy either. The new "market freeze" will also apply to their traditional on-premises license business, and that's going to show up in the revenue line before long.
Additionally, if VMware fails to make the new service financially attractive to their existing partners (who incidentally sell boatloads of on-premises hardware), that's going to completely stall the venture. Not a lot of margin to work with, either.
That ain't FUD folks, that's how the world works.
From the technology side, more concerns. Hypervisors have already become largely commoditized. Containers and container management is now a real thing, making vSphere's relevance in the cloud less assured. Proven solutions already exist today to encapsulate those VMs, strip out vSphere and move them unmodified to the public cloud of your choice, and saving big money in the process.
In addition to all the other challenges, VMware has fight a completely separate battle on maintaining their technology relevance in a world of public cloud.
Remember, we talking about easily commoditized IaaS here. Not PaaS. Not SaaS.
A Final Thought, Or Two
Yes, this was certainly a big bold move on the part of VMware. The world is quickly moving to cloud. They now know that delivering a viable public cloud service isn't as easy as it looks. So they are partnering their way in, and have landed a big one with AWS. All credit where credit is due.
The harder part over the next year is making it work: making it work from a technology perspective, and making it work from a go-to-market perspective. And not cratering the business that pays the bills in the process.
None of this is obvious to me.
I'll check back in a year, and let you know what I think.
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