VMware and the Hybrid Cloud

Ever since it became clear that virtualization was leading directly to the cloud, VMware has been in a bit of a pickle. How, exactly, will it leverage its dominance in virtual infrastructure into the wider and even more chaotic environment outside the data center walls?

There’s the public cloud, which depends very much on the virtualization software and platforms VMware provides, but the company isn’t likely to see much headway as a cloud provider going up against Google and Amazon. There’s the private cloud, although without hardware infrastructure it won’t be able to provide end-to-end platforms like HP and IBM.

Clearly, then, the answer for VMware lies in the hybrid cloud, where the company is uniquely positioned to provide the link between internal and external services.

That’s why VMworld saw a steady stream of hybrid initiatives, capped off by a new Computing as a Service (CaaS) program in conjunction with Verizon. The service, based on the vCloud Datacenter platform, is designed to allow enterprises to shift data loads between public and private resources purportedly without breaking internal security protocols. Due to launch in 2011, the service is aimed at seasonal users like hotels and travel agencies, as well as firms that have varying data capacity needs.

But that’s not all. VMware also shook up the industry this week with the acquisitions of analytics firm Integrien and security developer TriCipher, both of which offer key components to assuaging customers’ fears about linking internal and external infrastructure. Expect Integrien’s software to be folded into the vCenter management stack, while TriCipher will see a broad rollout across VMware’s cloud portfolio.

VMware sees the hybrid cloud as an integral part of future enterprise architectures because it enables fluid movement of data and resources for organizations struggling to cope with ever-shifting requirements, according to CEO Paul Maritz. At VMworld, he noted that this new data structure affects everything from basic infrastructure to the application layer, meaning that those who can break down and rebuild existing relationships quickly and efficiently will dominate the new environment. Through a broad range of tools and platforms ranging from vSphere to the new VCloud Director, the company clearly hopes to extend its dominance in virtualization to the cloud.

To achieve that goal, however, it will have to contend with a range of competitors both large and small. Certainly firms like Microsoft with its Azure platform and Hyper-V hypervisor are on VMware’s radar, but there is a growing legion of smaller firms that are joining forces to tap into the private/hybrid cloud market before key players become entrenched. One group consists of newScale, rPath, Eucalyptus and MomentumSI, which is targeting custom-designed cloud platforms in response to what some are calling the “cloud-in-a-box” movement. This “ecosystem” of cloud components — automation from rPath, infrastructure from Eucalyptus and customer-facing software from newScale, all tied together through MomentumSI’s integration services — is seen as a counter to the cloud lock-in risk from single-platform providers.

The sheer variety of cloud offerings out there is enough to make your head spin. And at this stage of the game, there isn’t yet a “right” way to do the cloud.

But as the market and the technology settles out over the next few years, clear patterns should emerge. And one of those will most likely be the need for a hybrid service to open up as many workload configuration options as possible.

VMware could very well come to dominate this market as well, but it is not a foregone conclusion.

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