Takeaways from VMworld's Multicloud Onslaught

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By: R. Scott Raynovich


VMware (VMW) this week used its annual VMware conference to pump up its multicloud portfolio. While I found the content overloaded with marketing hype (more than the usual conference), some of the sessions were interesting and gave insight into VMware's future direction, with a sensible multicloud attack strategy.

Right now, there is a large shift in the information technology (IT) world toward the public cloud and multicloud. With VMware also undergoing many changes, including a change to new CEO Raghu Raghuram, it finds itself at a key strategic point in its history. The company leadership is not unaware of this and has spent several years beefing up its portfolio to embrace strong new cloud trends such as multicloud management and Kubernetes.

To that end, VMware seeks to establish its multicloud credentials. This week at VMworld it launched Cross-Cloud services, VMware Edge platform, SASE security, AI, and a number of improvements as part of its Tanzu applications management platform.

The core mission for VMware is to convince customers that it has the offerings to help them migrate to a world of multiple clouds, distributed applications, and work from anywhere (WFA) environments. One of the business concerns is that VMware’s technology success is rooted in the world of virtual machines (VMs) and private cloud management, meaning that a move to multicloud and distributed apps frameworks such as Kubernetes could be a threat to its dominance.

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VMware, of course, has been working hard to counter this perception. Many of the new announcements at VMworld are the result of years of acquisitions designed to reorient the company to multicloud and Kubernetes, which is where a lot of things are going at the moment. Some of the key acquisitions have included Carbon Black, Cloud Health, SaltStack, Heptio, and Bitnami – only to name a few! (VMware has made about 20 acquisitions in just the last three years.)

Let’s dig into some of the announcements.

Why Multicloud Now?

There are two key undercurrents in the so-called multicloud world. The first is that application development is moving to Kubernetes and microservices frameworks, which enable distributed applications to be built in VM-free or "bare metal" environments that can virtualize the operating system and run in public clouds wherever there is processing power for the workloads. This makes applications more efficient and ephemeral.

The second big trend is in networking and security. The move to multicloud and WFA are both putting demands on infrastructure to make it more secure and flexible -- networking, storage, and compute must be able to orient themselves to support access to services and applications running anywhere, or accessed from anywhere.

To this goal, VMware has launched its Cross-Cloud services, which is really a catch-all for these trends.

VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram pounded home the point that VMware gets it and wants to embrace multicloud and Kubernetes. “Mutlicloud is the model for the next 20 years,” he said in his general session keynote. “Multicloud is the center of gravity for everything we do.”

Raghuram also tried to dispel the myth that in the multicloud world, VMware represents an unnecessary software layer, or “tax,” by costing more to run VMware software services for public cloud and multicloud services. Raghuram said that’s just "not true," and that VMware is working hard to introduce new products that will bring efficiencies to operating in the multicloud world.

Some of the key announcements included:

VMware Cloud with Tanzu services – VMware announced that the Tanzu portfolio of managed Kubernetes services will be offered free with VMware Cloud. Customers can also integrate management of VM-based and multicloud apps that run on Kubernetes. It also includes a number of technology upgrades and R&D investment such as Project Arctic, which aims to merge vSphere and cloud connectivity in a hybrid cloud model.

Networking security, cloud security, and app security – VMware announced a number of security and cloud security initiatives in its networking and infrastructure products ranging from NSX to Carbon Black. It’s also supporting data governance with VMware Sovereign Cloud, to match geo-specific data requirements.

VMware has been a leader in securing workplaces for WFA, which it delivers with Workspace ONE. By recently adding Carbon Black to secure endpoints, VMware now has an integrated portfolio of Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), microsegmentation, Cloud Access Service Broker (CASB), API security, workload and identity-based security, and endpoint security to provide a way to lock down any environment across any network. The integration of these services is currently placed in the bucket known as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE).

(For more on VMware's security announcements, please see our detailed breakdown by analyst Andrew Braunberg.)

Upgraded Edge Platform – VMware has integrated a number of products, including its highly successful VeloCloud software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) product, into a new VMware Edge portfolio that includes an edge compute stack, SASE, and VMware Telco Cloud. The idea here is to provide a flexible networking and compute platform that can run anywhere, in any format from thin edge to fat edge, and provide a range of services to adapt to a wide range of new high bandwidth 5G services. This also includes integration with the Dell EMC VxRail hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) product.

But I’ll confess – we’ve only scratched the surface. You will need to dive deep into VMware’s documentation and press releases to comprehend everything that was announced, because it was exhaustive.

Will VMware Become a Kubernetes Company?

The main hit against VMware is that one of its core cloud products, “VMware for cloud,” is really just a porting of the private cloud/VM model in the public cloud – “Lift and shift,” as they call it in the industry. Customers, for example, can run VMware Cloud in Amazon to introduce portability for its cloud applications among private cloud and public cloud infrastructure. Cloud-native purists will argue that this is unnecessary because multicloud applications architectures such as Kubernetes can do all this a lot cheaper -- eliminating software management layers.

On the other hand, the Kubernetes market is still young, and a common complaint is that the technology needs more management tools. Hence VMware’s big investment in Kubernetes and Tanzu. What VMware is trying to do with Tanzu is provide a flexible platform for building, managing, and running cloud-native applications, which is a great direction. Tanzu has evolved from VMware’s acquisition of Pivotal as well as several other Kubernetes technology companies including Bitnami, which manages development in multicloud Kubernetes environments.

One of VMware’s more savvy moves at VMworld was to announce that Tanzu on VMware Cloud is now free, hoping to expose more people to Tanzu and provide more value-add for VMware Cloud.

It's almost as if the company is promising too much, as it tries to juggle being a networking company, a multicloud management company, and a security company all in one. There was also an awful lot of hype and noise at VMworld that sometimes made it a turnoff.

My takeaway is that VMware is one of the established large technology companies that is best positioned to provide key management platforms for the multicloud and Kubernetes era. Overall VMware gets a B+ for effort. Now, all they have to do is execute.