VMware’s Past, Present and Future in Cloud Computing

COMPANY ANALYSIS: Although VMware isn’t always at the top of cloud computing pioneer lists, its cloud roots and pedigree are as deep as any vendor’s can be.

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While the term “cloud computing” was coined in an internal document by Compaq in 1996 and its underlying concepts have been around since long before that, it is a mistake to think of cloud as something fully formed or entirely mature. Instead, cloud solutions continue to evolve and follow the rapid commercial transformation that began when Amazon relaunched AWS and included the Elastic Compute Cloud service in August 2006.

Though VMware isn’t always at the top of cloud computing pioneer lists, its cloud roots and pedigree are as deep as any vendor’s can be. Why so? Because hardware virtualization technologies, like the company’s vSphere offerings, are central to cloud functionality. VMware launched its first formal cloud effort (the vCloud initiative) more than a decade ago and since then has steadily delivered solutions and services that address the cloud computing needs of its enterprise clients.

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A recent Cloud Analyst Event offered some intriguing insights into the current state and future direction of VMware’s cloud efforts and strategies.

VMware Cloud Emerges

VMware’s course to the cloud was guided in large part by the vision of its parent company EMC. In February 2008, five years after buying VMware for $635 million, EMC purchased pioneering cloud start-up Pi Corp and appointed its CEO, Paul Maritz, (a storied senior Microsoft exec) to lead its new Cloud Infrastructure and Services Division.

When VMware’s then-CEO and co-founder Diane Greene left the company five months later, Maritz replaced her and, a few months after that, he announced the first vCloud initiative that pointed VMware directly toward a future in cloud computing. Why did that make sense? Cloud’s value proposition rests on the ability to centrally control and seamlessly migrate workloads and data to the systems best suited to their requirements.

In the case of most public cloud providers, that meant managing hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of Intel-based servers in much the same way that workloads are managed on traditional scale-up systems, such as IBM mainframes. In fact, Maritz initially used the phrase “the big mainframe or big computer” to describe VMware-enabled cloud data centers (not too surprisingly, he dropped the mainframe reference after a couple of months).

That was what Amazon had accomplished, enabling its IT infrastructure to be cost-effectively repurposed to support AWS services. What Maritz and cloud proponents at VMware and elsewhere envisioned was leveraging the company’s technologies in the form of commercial cloud solutions that could be sold to enterprise customers and service providers. That central point underscored Maritz’s efforts until he left the company for Pivotal in 2012 and continues today as VMware executes against CEO Pat Gelsinger’s sure-handed, cloud-focused strategy.

A Decade of VMware Cloud Progress

In the decade after VMware first announced vCloud, the company developed and released a steady stream of related solutions, including:

  • vCloud APIs and vCloud Express (2009)
  • Cloud Foundry (2011, an open-source platform-as-a-service system eventually folded into Pivotal)
  • vCloud Suite (2012)
  • vCloud Hybrid Service (2013 to support IaaS, then rebranded vCloud Air in 2014), the VMware Cloud Provider program and web site (for cloud service providers – CSPs)
  • Cloud Foundation (2016, for managing private cloud environments deployed on integrated SDDC systems)
  • vRealize Suite (2017, a comprehensive cloud management platform).

Not all of the company’s efforts were entirely successful. Notably, vCloud Air was sold to French cloud provider OVH in 1H 2017. Afterward, VMware shifted focus to agnostically providing solutions and services to its global Cloud Provider CSP partners and moved to developing hybrid cloud solutions and supporting emerging multi-cloud trends.

In fact, a close reading of VMware’s decade of cloud exploration and development finds the company’s evolution mirroring the larger industry. The fact is that early evangelists, such as Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, extolled their platforms and public clouds, including Amazon as the ultimate future of all IT. That was a conventional extension of the highly-centralized, “on demand” “utility” computing models that had been around since the mid-1990s.

But as businesses’ needs for and views of cloud evolved, a more complex situation emerged. First, for reasons including security and privacy concerns, most organizations possessed applications and data resources that they would never entrust to public clouds. In addition, rather than engaging with single, massive public clouds, they preferred to work with multiple CSPs, according to the quality and strength of available offerings. Finally, companies wanted to capture cloud ease and efficiencies for their own on-premises IT infrastructures.

VMware Cloud Today and in the Future

Those continuing trends in hybrid- (blending on- and off-premises cloud services and assets) and multi-cloud adoption and use cases are central to VMware’s efforts, but the company’s strategy focuses on practical issues its customers consider mission-critical. As Chris Wolf, VMware’s VP and CTO Global Field and Industry, noted in his presentation, application needs are driving cloud evolution, as well as broader IT initiatives, such as IT modernization, SaaS, DevOps, cloud-native apps and operations automation.

Where does VMware fit into this picture? In essence, the company believes it is ideally positioned to support and deliver the same levels of IT service, availability, security and compliance in public cloud-based workloads as it has long done in on-premises data centers. That, in turn, will simplify its enterprise customers’ cloud migration plans and initiatives and help them dependably meet application performance goals and governance requirements.

In addition, these solutions, services and efforts maximize the value that VMware provides to its public cloud partners. Those include highly visible players, including AWS, Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud, along with the other 4,200+ CSPs in its Cloud Provider ecosystem. Together those vendors support more than 200,000 business customers by managing 10M+ VMware VMs.

The Cloud Analyst Event provided deep dives into VMware Cloud and Cloud Foundation, along with related, newer multi-cloud technologies and services, as well as testimonials by the company’s cloud customers, including Connectwise (service delivery automation), Robert Half (human resource consulting) and Trend Micro (cyber security and defense). Company executives also offered insights into more recent focus areas, such as VMware’s support for “Kubernetes everywhere” and related investments, including the recent acquisition of Heptio.

Finally, significant attention was paid to the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC offerings highlighted at Dell Technologies World 2019 in April. Those include Dell Technologies’ Cloud Platforms–based on Dell EMC hardware and VMware Cloud Foundation, plus optional solutions from RSA, SecureWorks, Boomi, VirtuStream and Pivotal. The VMware Cloud on Dell EMC offering provides customers a variety of consumption options managed by Dell, along with additional VMware management capabilities.

Final Analysis

So how convincing and compelling was the case for VMware’s cloud computing innovation and leadership? In his wrap-up at the end of the cloud analyst event, Muneyb Minhazuddin, VP of Product Marketing for VMware’s Cloud, Security and Workspace Solutions, noted that “increasing complexity is a natural outcome of evolution.” But the central question for VMware has long been, and remains: “How can we remove complexity for our customers?”

In fact, the strategy of engineering out the complexities of disruptive, potentially revolutionary business technologies and engineering in stability, consistency and security has long been a central VMware principle. That offers obvious value to the enterprises and other organizations that depend on the company’s solutions and services. But it also reflects deeper issues: At a certain point, disruption becomes commonplace. At a certain point, the revolution morphs into conventional wisdom.

In a welcoming video that kicked off the cloud analyst event, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger noted that “we are still in the infancy of the cloud journey.” Many would probably disagree with that view, arguing that the size and continuing growth of AWS, Microsoft Azure and other public CSPs instead reflects a stable, more rapidly maturing market.

Is that view reasonable, and do any potential barriers stand in the way of VMware’s road to hybrid- multi-cloud? Possibly. It is often difficult to gauge the maturity of technologies, especially those, like cloud, that are evolving rapidly on disparate fronts. There are also companies whose names are more closely and clearly associated with cloud computing than VMware–a point to consider, since customers often choose vendors according to their recognizability more than their relevance.

But at the same time, it is difficult to think of a chief executive with a greater understanding of cloud architectures than Gelsinger, or a vendor with a deeper bench of applicable engineering talent than VMware. In other words, the company has what it takes in terms of experience, knowledge and resources to go where it chooses, including a future in hybrid multi-cloud computing.

In addition, VMware has sparked and driven numerous revolutions in the past two decades. By removing complexity and building in the features and qualities that businesses need, the company has become a vendor that organizations trust and partners value. While leading the revolution, VMware has also found ways to succeed in more peaceful and prosperous times.

Overall, Gelsinger & Co. have as clear a view of the future of hybrid multi-cloud computing as anyone and a clearer understanding of what it will take to get there than most other vendors. There is every reason to believe that enterprise customers and partners will continue to follow VMware on that journey.

Charles King is a principal analyst at PUND-IT and a regular contributor to eWEEK.  © 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.