VMware Cross-Cloud explained (for EUC people)

Some of the messaging around VMware's Cross Cloud Architecture can give the wrong impression. Let's clear up what Cross Cloud is and how it relates to EUC.

Among the low-hanging fruit that people could use to pick on VMware is their lack of support for non-VMware clouds. After all, how can a company so determined to get to customers to the cloud ignore the fact that other clouds exist and that people might want to use them? At VMworld 2016, they addressed this head-on by talking about their new Cross Cloud Architecture, which will let you manage AWS, Azure, GCS, and private clouds from VMware tools.

Boom…low hanging fruit has been picked. VMware realized that customers are spreading around their needs to multiple providers. Chris Wolf notes in a recap of VMworld 2016 Day One that those customers often have a team dedicated to managing each cloud platform, so you can imagine as that practice continues things might get a little crazy in the Monday morning status meetings. 

The messaging around Cross Cloud has been a bit ambiguous, starting with this slide that was shown during the Day 1 keynote: 

VMworld 2016 Cross Cloud Vision
VMworld 2016 Cross Cloud Vision

From the looks of it that, you could say anything that you can do today on a VMware platform you can do on Cross Cloud. At least, that was my impression. Others had different ideas, so I thought I’d get to the bottom of this, at least as it pertains to EUC.

Is it real?

I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve been to many conferences where products are announced that don’t really exist. For example, I’m almost positive that Citrix Workspace Cloud, when it was first announced, was smoke with no fire. That worked out in the end because Citrix saw it through and created a decent product, but for every product that makes it out of that phase, there is another that doesn’t. VMware is as guilty of this as anyone, so you start to be on the lookout for announcements that are just concepts versus ones that carry a bit more weight.

Originally, I wondered if Cross-Cloud might be one of those “fireless smokes,” but through some conversations with VMware I can confirm it’s real. It’s not yet ready for customers to start using, but it will be. Currently it’s somewhere between alpha and beta phases, so it won’t be too much longer until we see something tangible.

How does it work?

When it comes to managing resources in multiple clouds, there is more than one way to skin the cat. VMware’s approach is centered on NSX and vRealize Network Insight, two products that have largely remained in our periphery in terms of what we cover on this site. Basically, when you use Cross-Cloud, you’re running NSX in the other cloud and shipping data between NSX VMs. Because the data never leaves NSX’s oversight, it still follows the traffic flows and security that you’ve defined. And, because NSX is in control, you don’t have to know how to set up all the network micro-segmentation policies in each of the other clouds.

That’s an oversimplification, but the point I’m trying to get across is that VMware has made it possible to leverage other cloud providers without having to learn the nuances of configuring the network and security around each application for each platform. You do it one time in NSX, and then NSX takes care of the rest.

On top of that, VMware has a product called vRealize Network Insight which they acquired when they bought Arkin this past June. Network Insight helps with creating your micro-segments by observing traffic flow on any application, even if it’s implemented in a traditional way, then telling you how to build your segments (by, say, only letting users access the web server, only the web server can access the application server, and only the application server can access the database). This information can be used to create the NSX rules, and those rules will soon be able to run on any cloud platform.

This is what VMware calls the Cross-Cloud Architecture.

Don’t they also have Cross-Cloud Services?

With the baseline architecture in place, VMware is now working on a set of tools to help manage the solution you’ve assembled based on Cross-Cloud Architecture. This set of tools is called Cross-Cloud Services, and it consists of the following components: 

  • SLA/Availability dashboard
  • Policy-based placement and optimization
  • UI and API-driven cloud service broker
  • Automated discovery
  • Centralized multi-cloud cost accounting
  • Workload migration

It’s probably worth digging into those at a later time, but what’s important to recognize is that  VMware isn’t just making the connection to the other clouds and washing their hands. Cross-Cloud Services will be a set of tools (not a single pane of glass) that provides the insight companies need when dealing with services from multiple providers.

What is a workload? Is that a desktop?

This was the main question I had coming out of VMworld, because the terms workload and application are being used in different ways depending on where you fall in the IT world today. In my mind, a workload is the type of work a user does, and the applications are a subset of that. I know that same terminology is used differently in other contexts, but with the high-level nature of the slide pictured above, I wanted to find out exactly what VMware’s intent was.

In short, Cross-Cloud is not about running VMware-based virtual desktops in other cloud providers. When we’re talking about Cross-Cloud, we’re talking about it from in IaaS point of view. That means that an application is a VM or set of VMs that provide a service. In the context of Horizon, the broker itself would be an application. AirWatch would also be an application. This explains the slide pictured above and what they’re trying to convey, and it means that desktops and desktop applications aren’t even on the radar.

To support desktops would be challenging (news flash!) because the desktop VMs are tied to vSphere. Taking those vSphere-based VMs and running them, plus the Blast protocol, plus all the monitoring and management functionality in another, non-vSphere-based provider would be difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. 

I’m not saying that we’ll never see something from VMware that will manage desktops across multiple clouds, but it doesn’t appear to be in the roadmap. 

Wrap-up

I hope that clears up any confusion about Cross-Cloud and what it means to us in the EUC space. It’s an important step for VMware. If you’d have bet me five years ago that they’d be managing services across multiple clouds while also selling session-hosted desktops and revolutionizing the way we manage Windows, I’d have given you 50-to-1 odds and you’d be very rich.

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