VMware: Ahead in the cloud - Gavin Jackson, United Kingdom

Although most companies remain in the early stages of adoption, the use of cloud technology is steadily growing. Concerns about cost, security and compliance have waned as the scope and quality of cloud offerings broadens. For CEOs and CFOs, cloud-based technology is particularly pertinent during periods of financial uncertainty; being able to leverage on-demand applications can substantially reduce capital expenditure at a time when it's most needed. According to Gavin Jackson, EMEA director of cloud services and partners at VMware, it is precisely this commercial impact that is driving migration to the cloud.

"I think our attitudes have changed because the business outcomes have been improved," he says. "Many software as a service (SaaS) applications are delivered in a way that has a better commercial impact for CEOs who know what value looks like."
For many companies stuck with legacy systems, ease of transition remains a key restriction. Integrating cloud technology into an existing infrastructure, or moving entire processes to the cloud is an intimidating task, particularly when so much money has been spent on in-house systems.

"Having a road map and a vision of where you want to go is the key to a successful cloud migration," Jackson says. "Obviously it will depend on the profile of the business process that you are looking to improve, but the basic formula is the same. Start with one project, do it well and in such a way that you leave an open door to implement other applications. CEOs should get involved in that process, looking at where improvement is required and the ripple effects that might occur across the enterprise."

There are a variety of cloud types that business leaders have the opportunity to mobilise, all of which run on virtual infrastructures and applications. Not only do these virtualisation platforms enable the flexible operation of multiple machines on each physical computer, but they do so in a way that consistently saves money and reduces data centre costs. For VMware, the global leader in cloud infrastructure, the technology lies behind the entire computing revolution.

"Virtualisation really is the under-pinning of cloud technology," Jackson says. "If you look at the virtualisation market, VMware has a staggering 85% market share, which includes pretty much all of the fortune 1,000. At the moment we have over 350,000 enterprise customers that use our software to virtualise and automate their applications and infrastructure. With our technology you can run and manage entire data centre workloads in virtual software rather than physical boxes and hardware. And the technique is simple: abstract the tasks of running infrastructure though virtualisation."

The hybrid cloud

Virtualisation is the first step to hybrid cloud computing, a bridge between on-premise, customer-owned private clouds and the public cloud providers. For companies that have already invested in VMware technology and have begun to virtualise their data centres, applications and infrastructures, there's now a bridge allowing them to move workloads from one cloud to another, whenever they choose.

"If you have a compatible ecosystem of public cloud providers, it makes it very easy to extend your experience into somebody else's resource pool while retaining control," Jackson says. "This means, in essence, that the VMware experience our customers currently have on premise can be extended outwards, with a series of financial and agility gains. We're getting more and more involved in bridging existing and public cloud infrastructures, and we're very excited about it."

That same virtualisation technique is being used by VMware to cater for the next generation of applications like Facebook and Salesforce.com. Cloud Foundry is an open platform as a service that caters for multiple applications and is written with contemporary frameworks to support as wide a programming choice as possible.

"We're certainly in the post-PC era now," Jackson says. "The proliferation of smartphones and tablets, together with the rise of social and mobile applications has created a new opportunity for CEOs to leverage. Applications have to adapt to that and so 12 months ago VMware launched the world's first open platform as a service, called Cloud Foundry, to provide the rapid creation of modern applications built for the cloud era.

"We expect it will change the way applications are written, largely due to the reduced time-to-market of projects, some of which we have seen reduced by some 90%."

Another aspect of the cloud which VMware is working on concerns the way technology is delivered to the end user. Taking the kind of consumer applications used by Apple and Android into the enterprise context is a difficult but necessary task.

One of VMware's most successful products in this area is an enterprise application store that offers end users the experience of having micro apps that don't need management or support. The company has also built a business dropbox called Octopus, which has file-sharing and document-serving capabilities without the compliance risks that might be expected.

"We're giving the application space a platform that can operate for the enterprise in a way that is very consumer based," Jackson says. "Take Facebook; we accept all the benefits of social connectivity and collaboration but realise that the philosophy of total transparency of ideas and intellectual property is inappropriate for companies. They want transparency with their employees and suppliers but need to retain control over information. That's why we've built a Facebook for the enterprise called Socialcast that can mobilise social media and build in the mechanisms of compliance that are needed."

Security firm

Concerns surrounding security still exist in the cloud computing landscape even as record numbers join the migration process. Fears about data management and compliance persist for IT professionals and senior management, particularly in geographical locations with stringent data laws. But for Jackson, that threat is in danger of being exaggerated.

"I think it's a perception rather than a reality," he says. "Our studies indicate that if you ask a hundred different enterprises, public or private, large or small what they think, then you'll get polar opposite answers.

"Some customers take the view that the cloud offers better security leverage than they could afford to apply on-premise. Others might think that if it's in the cloud it can't be controlled. They might insist on having their data live in the country they are domiciled in, for example."

Jackson believes that fears of this kind are almost entirely without merit. Though privacy and compliance to local data laws may be a good reason for not using cloud providers like Microsoft and Amazon (which don't have data centres in every country), it needn't preclude a business from using the many local service providers available on the vCloud Marketplace. And, for Jackson, that fact suggests the existence of two very different philosophies on the public cloud.

"You have the philosophy of cloud providers like Microsoft and Amazon where there's one way of doing things and where the market is told to adapt," he says. "Then there's the belief that cloud suppliers need to adjust to the business needs of each particular client. That's the camp we're in and it solves many of the security and privacy issues that businesses still have.

"VMWare has more than 100 certified enterprise clouds in the marketplace in some 30 countries," he continues. "We don't buy into the 'Hotel California' approach, where suppliers provide one set of services and then lock-in their customers for good."

Service providers that can improve business outcomes in an agile and flexible way through cloud technology will prove most successful in the coming years. Those vendors, like VMware, that can tailor their products to the needs of the clients rather than demanding they re-align their processes, will undoubtedly move to the front of what's become an increasingly competitive market.

Gavin Jackson, EMEA director of cloud services and partners at VMware.