VMware has been important and influential, there's no denying that. The ability to virtualise server hardware drove huge gains in minimising hardware footprints, miniaturising data centres, increasing uptime and reliability, providing greater recovery times, and is the backbone of what we now call cloud computing.
However, at the same time, there's a risk the company's success has collapsed a major part of its reason for existence. After all, if organisations increasingly move from on-premises data centres to public clouds - and are no longer managing their own hardware and servers - this means the traditional company is no longer necessarily using VMware for that purpose.
Ah, but many organisations have complicated applications and find it simpler to transition their on-premises virtual machines, or VMs, to the equivalent on cloud platforms. Thus, they still run VMs, albeit not on their own physical hardware. Well, yes, to an extent. They may move from VMware to AWS EC2s or Azure VMs instead. Or even if they do take up VMware’s own VMware on Cloud product and run VMware on AWS or elsewhere, chances are they won’t want to do this forever. Cloud computing isn’t cheap despite the hype and running a workload 24x7 drives up the bills. The ultimate goal is to re-platform your apps to elastic, serverless resources and pay only for necessary consumption.
So perhaps as we make our way through the 2020s and begin looking at the 2030s and beyond you might, fairly, think the traditional VM is on its deathbed.
Well - VMware's heard all that and most definitely thought about it, and the company is not going away anytime soon.
VMware's strategy for the next decade
Instead, VMware's strategy is to continue providing support for legacy applications using virtual machines, while also providing a great suite of products to aid developers and operations teams in managing and deploying modern container-based applications.
Sure, you could use Kubernetes yourself but VMware's Tanzu makes it easier. Tanzu literally means “portable container” in Japanese, and just as vSphere is the foundation of your enterprise, Tanzu is the foundation of your cloud-native architecture.
Make no mistake, "Kubernetes is good news, no matter what cloud you're talking about," says VMware senior Vice President Tanzu Edward Hieatt. However, “Tanzu provides architectural things above, to hide the complexities of Kubernetes. It provides the DevOps operator with a consistent interface across any cloud. It’s more packaged and less do-it-yourself. Developers can write code and not even know or care which cloud it runs on.”
In fact, VMware's vision for the next decade of computing is for a world of modern, multi-cloud applications, with IT teams able to stand up any application on any cloud, as needed, with full control but no headaches. It will be a consistent set of tools and APIs that make the underlying cloud immaterial.
This strategy is built on three components: Tanzu, of course; the DPU - a new processor emerging on server hardware; and VMware Aria, a brand new product that finds all your cloud resources and delivers insights and, importantly, manageability.
Just as VMware abstracted away hardware in the past, allowing you to run Linux on Windows servers, or Windows on Linux servers, or maintain a legacy Windows NT application on modern servers, and vMotion servers from one box to another or snapshot and restore virtual hard drive images - so too it now is abstracting away the cloud, allowing the same platform-agnosticism and consistent approach and management to deploying the applications of the future.
"Multi-cloud is a confusing term," Hieatt says. "I used to think it meant you could run the same app on any cloud and bounce it around.” And, sure, this is a part of it. But it’s more than this; it’s about your apps (say) running in a container on AWS that leverage a machine learning API on IBM Watson which draws data from Snowflake and the Google Cloud maps API.
You might ask if this is a realistic scenario. Don't companies prefer to stick with one cloud? Even in my own network, I have those scoffing about multi-cloud.
Yet, I've been there. I've got stories and you’ll have your own.
My own stories of multi-cloud
For example, one company I worked with was all-in on AWS. Though it had acquired another company that also used AWS, so now had multiple AWS tenancies with separate VPCs and separate identities. Even so, it still considered itself to work with a single cloud. Then it acquired another business that was an Azure shop. This acquisition had applications that stored client data in unique databases, so it had over 400 SQL Server databases using Azure SQL Server. There was talk of migrating to AWS, but only briefly. Not only was it a lot of work to migrate the application, its VMs, its networking, and other items, but AWS RDS SQL Server has a limit of up to 100 databases per RDS instance, depending on size while Azure SQL Server has no such limitation. The result is the company continues to operate on both AWS and Azure unambiguously.
In another case, I worked with a company that was an exclusive AWS shop. Well, so they said. The developers loved AWS, and all their development was on AWS. Except it wasn’t. Some services ran on Azure, and there was even GCP in the mix.
In fact, that company had to consider its costs carefully when COVID hit. So much so that the cloud costs had to be slashed, and serious changes were considered. Could it move to Azure? At the time, Microsoft billed for Azure in Australian dollars while AWS billed in US dollars, and as such, the monthly spending fluctuated. To their frustration, as they were considering this, Microsoft announced it would now bill in US dollars, too - so there went that competitive edge it once had on local pricing. Ultimately, the business moved to a local hosting organisation, effectively turning from cloud to on-premises, even if it was somebody else’s premises.
Then we have sovereign cloud considerations - which can affect companies that deal with governments, not only government departments.
So no matter how pure you feel your environment may be, the chances are high you already have multiple clouds in the mix or you will, and even that you might change clouds for some reason or another.
Multi-cloud is here, and isn't going away, and VMware says its tooling is going to be the centre of that multi-cloud universe.
Modern app development
Hieatt gives a humorous example; back in the day, the big banks would send "a guy with a briefcase to the rich guy’s house to show his stock portfolio. Now the rich guys are 30-year-olds who don’t want you to show up at their house. They just want their results on their iPad,” and the big bank has to modernise to remain competitive.
"We can help you become great at building an app but to do that you have to get into this way of building apps,” he says - that is, a modern, containerised approach.
VMware is so serious about providing a consistent experience across all clouds that it is embracing competitors’ implementations of Kubernetes and providing support for Red Hat OpenShift, AWS EKS, and others. “The agnosticism makes it more powerful,” Hieatt says.
What's more, you can start for free with the Tanzu Community Edition.
Now, Tanzu is for developers, while VMware Aria - a brand new product - delivers near real-time data on costs, operations, and automation across all your clouds. It provides unified visibility, federation across tools, unified management and end-to-end services.
You can read more online and also check out a VMware lab to try it for yourself.
Aria came into being to help VMware themselves solve the problem of multi-cloud management.
"Multi-cloud management is a huge problem today," Raghuram said. "I see the bills for multi-cloud every day, millions of dollars on building and managing new apps. I understand deeply the challenges of building new apps on the cloud and managing to a high level of security, and resiliency.”
Thus was born Aria, VMware's own way of managing the platform, and driven by a core concept known as the Aria Graph.
"Google first created a graph of the web, and we’ve done something similar - a graph of all your cloud assets, VPCs, on-premises equipment, Kubernetes clusters, and so on. We can do all sorts of security and automation using this graph we could never think of before. It’s the core of our multi-cloud strategy and should be at the core of your multi-cloud strategy,” he said.
The future is upon us
VMware is betting the farm on modern apps as the future of technology over the next decade. The company hasn’t come at it half-cocked either, nor adopting any wait-and-see approach. VMware has come out fighting with the tools and resources and new hardware support to provide your company with a single platform to build, develop, spin up, tear down, consume, and manage all your cloud services with ease and with no concern for where you deploy.
Just as VMware freed the data centre all that time ago from hardware dependency and increasing server hardware spend, so too VMware’s strategy for the next decade can free you from reliance on any specific cloud and with that, allow you to deploy wherever it makes sense based on price and other features, and then change it whenever you need with no re-tooling or re-development.
The name of the business remains VMware but it may as well now be KubernetesWare, jokes VMware vice president and managing director ANZ Brad Anderson, or even AppsEverywhere.