Ajay Patel: ‘VMware is adding value to today’s new hardware – the cloud’

At VMworld this year, VMware made two distinct announcements in the cloud arena.  The first was the announcement of VMware Cloud Foundation, which integrates compute, network and storage into a unified SDDC platform. The second announcement was the extension of the company’s partnership with IBM, where IBM Cloud offers VMware Cloud Foundation as a fully automated service.

With the announcement, it seems VMware is attempting to compete in the public cloud space. In an interview with Networks Asia, Ajay Patel, Senior Vice President of Product Development – Cloud Services at VMware reveals the strategy behind the announcements.

“Our value is the area of management, security, data and governance,” says Ajay Patel, Senior Vice President of Product Development – Cloud Services at VMware. “We are not trying to replace public cloud players like Amazon, or compete in the public cloud space; we are trying to add value on top of these public clouds. Liken to how VMware adds value in a data center with multiple hardware, VMware is adding value to today’s new hardware – the cloud.”

Naveen Chhabra, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research, also believes that VMware doesn’t intend to compete with public cloud giants.

“VMware has made it clear some time back that they don’t intend to compete with the hyperscale cloud providers like AWS, Azure, IBM Softlayer, Google Cloud Platform,” says Naveen. “They want to enable their so-called 4000+ (I doubt this number and I can bet) partners to be able to deliver a seamless services experience  regardless where the services are located. They want their service provider partners to leverage VMware solutions and deliver an extension to the currently existing huge install base of the VMware platform in customers data center.”

Naveen adds that the new announcements should have a positive impact on the company’s vCloud Air Network (vCAN) partners. “However easier said than done – VMware has its task cut out to ensure they deliver to their direction. Delivering it means a lot – from product design through delivery thru these vCAN partners. Enablement will play a key role in that.”

Naveen also noted that VMware will have an uphill task to convert existing huge vsphere client base to vCloud Foundation; as that requires a major reskilling, reorganization effort both on the service provider side as well as the client side.

“If vCF were to be implemented on service provider side only, it would not be much difficult, but since VMware is proposing to setup a vCF on both customer and SP side, both sides need time and money investments,” said Naveen.

VMware’s public cloud strategy

Patel explains that the company’s public cloud strategy is one of both vCloud Air, the company’s current cloud service which is much more specialized and focused on data extension, data center replacement and data recovery, as well as delivering its technology via multiple cloud providers through the vCloud Air Network (vCAN).

“We are focused on enabling others to build up a public cloud, leveraging the newly announced VMware Cloud Foundation, with IBM as an example,” adds Patel.

VMware expects customers to be using more than one cloud; with numbers suggesting that 50 to 70 percent of enterprises will have more than three clouds by 2020. And in this case, businesses are likely to be leveraging VMware cloud either on-premise or through one of our vCloud Air Network partners, and probably one of the hyper-scale clouds like Amazon, Azure or Google, or IBM, according to Patel.

“With multiple clouds, businesses still face problems of management, security, automation, data and governance. How then, can businesses solve these problems? VMware is layering our software on top of that to help solve these issues. We are not looking to be pure competitor with Amazon. We are trying to allow for cross-cloud services, in cross-cloud architecture. We are creating a set of services that leverage and build on these public clouds,” says Patel.

The following is the excerpt of the Q&A with Patel:

What operational challenges can the new Cross-Cloud architecture help enterprises deal with?

Patel: The first one is security. The fundamental problem today is that perimeter security doesn’t work. What this means is that in today’s world, firewalls alone are not good enough. Once you’ve punched through the firewalls, you can have access to everything within the application, data center – essentially anything within the customer’s perimeter.

The second issue is that applications are also built using multiple services with some on-premise and others sitting in the public cloud. Businesses are no longer able to protect just the application. Instead, they have to protect everything that the application touches. With VMware NSX and our recently announced Cross-Cloud services, we are allowing the connection of on-premise applications to services in public cloud to protect the application. Through this, we are solving the security issues that are results of applications running on multiple clouds.

We are also solving the visibility problem when running applications. Customers often want to have visibility of what resources are applications using, how much is it costing them, where is it running on, what is the health of the applications, resources and more. Through our solutions, we are providing customers with the visibility of their applications and the underlining resources across multiple clouds.

The third area which we are helping is migration: move over from one platform to another; or the provision of a new workload. How do I automate from Amazon to Azure? With the automation, provisioning across clouds can sometimes be a problem too. The Cross-Cloud services we demonstrated and announced at VMworld showcased how we are solving the above issues customers face.

What applications types will the new Cross-Cloud Architecture support that aren’t currently supported now?

Patel: It is not about enabling new applications, but to allow for the management of applications that are natively built in the cloud, or use services that are running on multiple clouds. With the new Cross-Cloud architecture, you can now connect on and off-premise applications together with visibility and ease of management.

Support for applications in multi-clouds including the public cloud (AWS and Azure) – do you see great demand for such hybrid cloud deployments?

Patel: We are seeing that most customers are looking to leverage existing investments; and with digital transformation, they are also looking at creating new mobile apps or web-scale apps to boost their online presence. To create these new applications, customers are leveraging new cloud services to leverage benefits of elasticity and scalability. However, data often resides in the back-end within the ERP system or in the database, giving rise to new challenges of connecting and managing the use of multiple clouds building native applications. VMware offers a common operating system for enterprises so they no longer have to work across in silos. They can now work in a uniform way across the all the dispersed landscape of the applications running on all these different clouds, and make them look like one single platform.

The next one is a go-to-market strategy – Are you expecting existing customers to come onboard first or brand new customers? How will you engage them?

Patel:  We are seeing a mix of both existing and brand new customers. VMware has a large presence with 500,000 customers globally. When we define what ‘customers’ mean for the solution, it is most likely going to be a VMware customer.

The question really is: who is leading the conversation?

For some security related conversations, it typically will be IT-led. For visibility related issues, it would also be operational or IT-driven. However, for applications development, it would often be driven by the developer organization.

For the developer-led customer, it would most often be concerns around cloud native efforts running on Amazon, Azure, and the addition of VMware solutions. If it is IT-driven, it would usually be concerns with management and security. The customer demand will depend on the cloud service or cross-cloud services the business employs, and the audience’s preference to adopting the solution. For example, it would be an IT-driven problem in the scenario where someone’s looking to build a new cloud application on Amazon and now needs to connect to the backend system. IT will then be the predominant beneficiary from these services. Similarly, a developer will benefit more for cloud native applications use.

So it’s more function driven? And that is agnostic in terms of industry as well?

Patel: In a nutshell, customer demand for the solutions will be function-driven. Developers tend not to worry about security as compared to the IT department. While for the operations department, the key worry would be about how they can optimize costs. Similarly, developers want agility, speed and the ability to provision templates. The needs of the individual functions will be the key driver of the demand.

We are seeing some industries that are more forward looking in terms of adopting clouds. As shared at Pat Gelsinger’s keynote at VMworld 2016, technology vendors were clearly the biggest segment looking into public cloud and are probably the early adopters.

For SDDC, how do you expect to compete with the likes of other vendors such as HPE, who have been long waving the SDDC flag?

Patel: We are a software company and are hardware agnostic. Hence, we will make our software, which is VMware Cloud Foundation, available on multiple platforms – on both clouds and physical hardware.

We support VCE, which is a Dell Technologies solution. We also support Fujitsu, where they are exhibiting at the show floor, where you will see VMware Cloud Foundation on their converged platform. One of the ready nodes is the HP-ready node – and this shows that we are not competing with HP. They are a strategic partner of ours; we are delivering our software pre-packaged with them as one of the delivery options for appliance or a ready system. As opposed to being competitors, it is more of a delivery kit with a partner to consume our VMware software on their hardware.

What will this mean for vCloud air partner networks?

Patel: The exciting bit is that our new strategy makes vCloud Air Network at the front and center of our go-to-market. It is a core part of our go-forward strategy.

We are a ‘software first, services second’ company now. As for ‘software first’, the best way to deliver software is on-premise, hyperconverged platform or as-a-service; and the best way to get the service is through one of the 4,100 service providers. We are putting in a lot of investments on both software and cloud provider software business units. We are also focused on building software solutions for the service providers and go-to-market support so that for customers who say they need a VMware cloud, they can go to one of these 4,100 service providers we work with.

For VMware, this means that we are enabling the service providers – our vCAN partners – to deliver all VMware cloud IP as-a-service. What this means for our customers is that we are giving them the choice for them to work with us, or their favorite partner. For example, if you are in Asia, you can work with Macquirie Telecom in Australia or work with Singtel in Singapore.

When can we expect to see more partners in the cloud foundation other than IBM? What are the selection criteria?

Patel: The VMware Cloud Foundation is open to all vCAN partners. It is a matter of the partner’s maturity and when he is ready to adopt the full stack.

Where I am seeing early adoptions are by customers or partners who have delivered bare metal level of service and they are probably going to jump in on this first. A good example of this would be would be like Fujitsu or NTT in Asia Pacific, in addition to some other smaller players.

VMware Cloud Foundation would benefit any partner who has a bare metal server. Also, partners who are willing to put together a complete stack of VMware software-defined data center will be more ready to look at VMware Cloud Foundation too.

IBM announced 500 customers during the keynote, was there a common impetus to change? E.g. agility, increased efficiency etc.?

Patel: There are basically three big drivers we are seeing from our customers.

Agility is the first driver where customers are keen to find out how they can get something up and running quickly, and save me the time and capital of provisioning of hardware.

The second big driver that we are seeing is that customers want to be out of the database center business and they don’t want to buy more capacity. When the need for a hardware refresh comes up, they can continue to run everything on-premise while having some bits running in soft layer or on the IBM Cloud. With VMware, this can be done without having to change any operations, technology, while continuing to be managed by the same people and process. This gives them the option of running it on other’s hardware as-a-service without the need to provision their own hardware, bringing about tremendous benefits. We are seeing data center replacement or hardware refresh in various companies.

The third one would be Disaster Recovery (DR). They want to look to protect their VMs on-premise, with the best way to get around a complicated environment, whether on-premise or off-premise.

In a nutshell, we are seeing agility, data center replacement and DR as the three drivers why people are coming to IBM cloud for.

While cost was cited as a reason during early cloud adoption, by and large, this no longer really holds true. Do you have any comments around that?

Patel: What is happening is that the infrastructure and IS costs form a very small percentage of the overall cost. Most Amazon customers are finding that in the long run, Amazon is not cheap. While they pay for network bandwidth, you get nickel and dime for all the different offerings (for example, you have capacity that is spun up but forgotten to shut down).

It is now more about the value and outcome, and how quickly one can get something done. The simplicity, ease of access, agility – all delivered as-a-service – so that you don’t have to run and manage the infrastructure. And that is becoming the more compelling value in the cloud. Cost is a factor, but it no longer is the top factor.