DISCLAIMER: The below represents my personal views.
The announcement by VMware and AWS that they are partnering to deliver VMware services from Amazon datacentres has already started to generate quite the flurry of excitement around the interwebs, and quite rightly so – it’s a big announcement from two of the biggest global players in Cloud (AWS) and traditional virtualisation (VMware) today. The timings are interesting, with the announcement coinciding with the launch of Windows Server 2016 and the delivery timeframe the same as that of Azure Stack. A cynic might call it reactionary and say that it lends great credence to Microsoft’s ‘all in on hybrid’ strategy. A cynic might.
I want to really delve into some of the messaging they’ve delivered, what it means, what’s changed in our world now vs yesterday, really try to understand where this industry of ours is heading, and what it all means as a service provider.
First up, this would seem to sound the final death knell for vCloud Air, which was unceremoniously downplayed and pretty much put out to pasture at VMworld in recent weeks. Effectively, VMware are deploying a similar model as vCloud Air into AWS datacentres, extending it with enhanced hardware-level elasticity and resiliency, and integrating AWS services and the AWS name and reputation in Cloud into the mix.
As these AWS services will not be deployable on-premises or within service provider datacentres, this is effectively the same hybrid story as previously with vCloud Air, with lower latency and less of an air gap between the off-prem VMware instances and AWS services, and a better management story.
As an Enterprise, I could well see this as a great way to bridge the gulf between on-premises virtualisation and born-in-the-cloud capabilities of AWS with a view to eventually moving to all AWS. In a world inexorably moving away from IaaS and into the world of PaaS, I cannot see the long-term here for VMware beyond buying some more time.
I say inexorably, because as IT Pros, loathe though we may sometimes be to admit it, the platforms we build and support are driven not by our wants and needs, but by those of the applications we deploy and the developers who create them. Innovation doesn’t follow IT, innovation in our world follows developers – from mainframes to PCs to the web to app stores and now on into cloud services, it’s a truism that we build to support that created by others.
Even today, a majority of new players entering the market fresh from university have been taught, guess what, either Azure or AWS. It’s so easy for a university to spin up and down developer resources in these true cloud platforms, and both throw huge numbers of free credits at educators in order to upskill the forthcoming workforce in their respective technologies, that snowballing and default adoption of them is all but inevitable.
Indeed I equate the time we’re living in now to the OS ‘wars’ of the 80s and 90s, where many many operating systems vied for attention, be it RiscOS, DrDOS, OS2, BeOS, or a plethora of others. Now twenty plus years on, the majority of these are dead and buried and we’re left with two main players – Windows, and ‘the *nixes’. Two distinct and core development platforms which development talent settled into naturally as each hit a critical mass that just couldn’t be stopped. If you wanted to develop an application which had good market penetration, you would target Linux or Windows, not BeOS. Through this natural attrition, all the other snowflake operating systems effectively died off or became very niche plays.
I believe this is what is happening in the world of Cloud today. The market is being hit by an influx of new talent coming in which expects just to be able to take advantage of Cloud-native PaaS services, because that’s what they’ve been taught. Containerisation is a nice compromise and half-way house in some cases here as it removes IT as a point of conflict and friction (if the container works on developer’s laptop it’ll work on IT department’s container host), but it’s only a tiny bit of the journey to true PaaS and cloud-native development. It’s long been my view that developer need will naturally kill off snowflake Clouds over time, and if we believe that AWS and Azure are the analogs of Windows and the *nixes from the OS wars in the Cloud era, we have to believe that they’ll emerge as the de-facto hyperscale offerings. I believe that if you’re ploughing money into building a Cloud which is not designed to dovetail into AWS or Azure consistency in time, what you’re building is the RiscOS of today. I loved RiscOS, but it didn’t attract sufficient development talent, and it ultimately fell into the hobbyist niche.
This being the case then, what does tying VMware into AWS actually bring to the table here? It offers an easy path for existing VMware houses to get more comfortable running their workloads in Amazon datacentres, which is wonderful for AWS as that’s a massive market for them to capitalise on. It gives VMware a hybrid story that actually includes Cloud-native development services from a true Cloud player for the first time. It doesn’t in my opinion give a true hybrid story, as those services still cannot run on-premises.
When you boil it down to its core and examine the differences between this offering and Azure Stack, fundamentally the value prop here is in bringing you from your premises and into AWS to leverage their Cloud services, using tools and technologies you already know to ease the way. The value prop of Azure Stack is in bringing the Cloud services from Azure back to your datacentre, and allowing you to take advantage of developer capabilities that are wanted and expected, but on your own terms and where you want and need them.
Regardless of how this deal plays out, I believe that AWS and Azure becoming the de-facto hyperscale Clouds is all but inevitable now, and in the best possible way, so that’s the world I architect towards. Other than as an on-ramp to AWS and a way for VMware houses to keep running virtualisation on-prem while giving developers Cloud capabilities in AWS in a reasonably credibly hybridised way, I don’t see the long-term play for VMware here.
While I may paint a picture here of hyperscale ruling all, there are some fundamental factors which absolutely necessitate the existence of Azure Stack and the ability to run true Cloud on your own premises, or from a regional service provider.
The most basic one is the speed of light. We can’t break it, and latency matters. It particularly matters in the world where IoT is starting to explode, and data needs to be captured and managed not up at the hyperscale cloud level, but at the edge in regional facilities. Not just for IoT, but for any big-data generating application or toolset – the less distance you have to send your data, the better – more and more often, sub-millisecond responses matter. Believe in the future of Bots and the BotFramework? You’d better believe latency matters.
There are of course always varying regional compliance and audit requirements that necessitate running things on-prem or in local providers, and even sometimes public-sector mandates to use local services as much as possible from a local economics perspective – this is one area I can’t see changing any time soon.
In many more rural areas, the connectivity just doesn’t exist to reliably make use of hyperscale cloud services, and this will be the case for many years to come in many countries. With all the innovation happening in AWS and Azure and all the new services being offered by them pretty much day by day, up until this point organisations in this situation have had no choice but to work in a more traditional IT modus, regardless of their desire to take advantage of Cloud. Azure Stack fixes this. Virtualisation doesn’t. AWS doesn’t.
I appreciate that a number of things I say above are contentious and that a lot of people disagree with them. I always enjoy lively discourse around this topic, so please do weigh in.
I believe that faster, more productive, and more innovative development work can only happen best in a Cloud-native world. I believe that we need to be able to run Cloud-native services on-premises and in regional datacentres, with exact hyperscale consistency. I believe that a developer should be able to develop once, and run their app consistently using the same services in our facilities as in the hyperscale cloud.
I believe that Azure Stack is the only product which fulfils these needs.
I believe that this deal is VMware’s best chance at staying relevant in the world of Cloud where they have no Cloud story of their own.