VMWare: value-added clouds – Gavin Jackson
For many enterprises, the transition from in-house systems to the cloud is strewn with obstacles. Often, in their hurry to adopt a cloud strategy, businesses purchase a public offering from outside their own IT domain. While they might initially have been drawn to the idea of a bespoke solution, the associated costs and timescale lead them to seek a no-frills alternative.
"The business might have a new initiative or application, and their instant reaction is to go to IT and ask for the resources," explains Gavin Jackson, EMEA director of cloud services and partners for VMware. "But when they realise it'll take them three to six months to get those resources together, the business has moved on and started using one of those no-frills clouds. It becomes a challenge to get compliant, reliable cloud services into their stack."
Heads in the air
Public cloud providers such as Amazon are popular, in part because of their attractive headline prices. Lacking an in-depth understanding of the challenges they may face, many businesses are apt to prioritise up-front costs over the long-term consequences.
Unfortunately, this decision can be their undoing. Firstly, there may be problems with compliance, forcing the termination of the project. Secondly, once a public cloud is being deployed at any given scale, it starts to become expensive and unpredictable.
"The more predictability businesses want in the service, the more money they have to throw at it," says Jackson. "Many of our customers are Amazon orphans who are looking for somewhere else to go."
So, how can these customers migrate elsewhere while still remaining within budget? Jackson believes that while this is possible and desirable, it isn't necessarily a simple task. Many cloud providers, functioning as little more than vendors, do not offer clients the help they need to get their solutions up and running.
"Historically, there has been some tension between core business models in IT and the cloud business model, so for cloud providers, there's been a reluctance to build the capability necessary to partner with customers," he says. "However, what VMware's done in recent times is to build a cloud integration partner programme, which takes our cloud ecosystem blueprint and gives consulting companies the skills to take customers hand-in-hand through the whole journey."
For example, it is critical that enterprises understand their compliance and application requirements. Rather than simply selling the solutions, VMware aims to guide customers through their migration and fully manage the relationship throughout.
Power of engagement
VMWare employs a wide range of front-line staff whose job it is to engage directly with customers. With a core sales team, an enterprise sales team and a regional sales team, VMware endeavours to support its clients day-in, day-out.
"Every day, we have many partners who speak to our customers as trusted advisers," says Jackson. "Our role there is to make sure the advice given is the latest information and it comes right from VMware."
There are also frequent public forums, including the popular VMworld event that takes place each year in San Francisco and Barcelona. A global conference for virtualisation and cloud computing, this presents a knowledge-sharing opportunity for all concerned. It is supplemented by an annual partner exchange in Las Vegas. These events give VMware an overview of the misconceptions that have been built up around cloud.
"CEOs understand the business value of having an instantly on-demand cloud service, but they believe incorrectly that there's a spectrum of need and you have to choose one end of the spectrum or the other," says Jackson. "At one end, is flexibility and support, while at the other is compliance and security and risk avoidance. Our view at VMware is that they don't have to choose."
The company has built a marketplace full of multifaceted cloud service providers.
"They offer the same flexibility and the same value proposition, the same agility and the same business value that Amazon might have," Jackson adds. "But they add to that the compliance, the security, the localisation and all the other regulatory requirements."
Freedom to float
VMware also hears from its customers that they want a cloud strategy that doesn't lock them in. They may well require different cloud services for different applications, and don't wish to confine themselves to a single provider. Rather, they want the ability to manage heterogeneous cloud environments irrespective of vendor, all the while using a single management platform that integrates these offerings.
This issue was brought into focus at the most recent VMworld Europe. Here, a major topic of discussion was the launch of the VMware vCloud Suite.
"vCloud Suite is the industry's first fully encompassing cloud infrastructure stack, which allows you to manage all your on-premise infrastructure from storage service to networks and everything in between," explains Jackson. "It can automate the processes aligned to that, but also extending out to external cloud providers. So, if the customer chooses an Amazon or Microsoft cloud, they can still manage it through the suite."
The solution allows enterprises to turn their data centre into a cloud, simplifying IT operations and ensuring full security. By pooling industry-standard hardware, and allowing users to proactively monitor the infrastructure, the suite is designed to meet the needs of any of the applications it supports.
Cloud is becoming far less of a novelty, with both adoption and awareness on the rise.
"There is no longer a discussion as to whether you are or aren't going to embrace the cloud; it's a case of how you're going to embrace cloud," says Jackson. "It's no longer even a question of the cloud providing an initial competitive advantage - it's now a disadvantage not to have it. Companies with cloud are faster moving; they leverage all the current technology trends like social applications and big data applications, which are all cloud applications built on cloud infrastructure."
This said, not everyone is fully optimising the options available to them or taking advantage of the functionalities delivered by a bespoke solution. In part, they are hindered by the fact they're dealing with unknowns.
When starting out for the first time, customers want to be able to test out the available services prior to making a purchase. They want to know how they might use cloud services and feed them into their existing IT infrastructure, but have lacked a means to try before they buy. It was for this reason that VMware developed its pioneering testing solution.
"We have something called the vCloud marketplace at VMware, which consists of 186 individual customer service providers from 32 countries worldwide that are providing ubiquitous cloud services in a consistent way," says Jackson. "What we've done is to extract the test layer from all of those providers to give the customer a consistent evaluation service."
Customers need only log in to start a trial. Using a secure VMware-based account, they can begin using services and getting a feel for what they're doing, before finding a provider that suits their specific needs.
In this respect and so many others, VMware is on hand to help. The company signposts customers through their cloud-computing journey, addressing their concerns and eliminating the obstacles along the way.