Benjamin Franklin once said, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Given recent history, it seems fair to also add to that list, “and a pre-Synergy bombshell from VMware.”
We’ve seen this tactic in the past, dating at least back to 2015 when VMware announced Project Enzo in the days leading up to Citrix’s first show-and-tell for Citrix Workspace Cloud. Though it would be almost a year before we actually saw Horizon Air with Hybrid Mode released, the mere mention of it was enough to get people to say, “I wonder how it will compare to VMware's thing?” every time someone mentioned Citrix Workspace Cloud.
So, with news coming out this morning that VMware has announced that Horizon Cloud will support desktop and application workloads on Microsoft Azure, I’ll be the first to say that it will be interesting to see how the two products compare when the VMware version is released.
Now that the obligatory dual mention with a pause for questioning the dynamics of the VMware/Citrix rivalry is out of the way, let’s look at how we got to this point.
Where did this come from?
The announcement today isn’t much more than a glimpse into the roadmap. The idea, though, is that VMware will be building upon the work they did to extend Horizon Cloud that enabled the partnership with IBM SoftLayer by adding in a connection to Azure. This connector will enable customers to run Horizon Cloud desktop and application workloads on Azure.
Frankly, I’m shocked. Just last year when we were trying to get to the bottom of what VMware’s Cross Cloud Architecture was all about, I all but ruled out near term support for Windows desktops and applications in any cloud other than a VMware one. In fact, after many conversations with people inside and outside VMware, I surmised that:
“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.”
It appears that the ensuing months have changed the roadmap, or at least the timing. Whether or not it’s in response to Citrix and Workspot putting their products in Azure, VMware-based MSPs adding Azure-based (and therefore not VMware-based) products, and/or customer demand, the reality is that a company that once seemed poised to fight Microsoft has suddenly changed its tune.
Equally surprising is that back in October, VMware announced a strategic partnership with AWS whereby AWS would be the go-to public cloud platform for hosting VMware-based services. The platform was said to feature “full VM compatibility,” though support for desktop and app workloads was not on the near-term roadmap.
Based on that, you would think that AWS would be the first public cloud provider to host desktops for VMware, but that’s no longer the case. In my mind, this, along with everything else that’s happened in the last 9 months, indicates that this is more of a reaction to higher-than-expected interest in Azure than it is to a long-term strategy coming to fruition. (Well, maybe it’s better to say that VMware’s long-term strategy is coming to fruition in the short-term now.)
Enough commentary, though. It’s happening, and who really cares about the how and why, anyway? We don’t have much in the way of detail (Another indicator! Ok, I’m done.), but we do know a few things:
Horizon Cloud for Azure will leverage the Horizon Cloud management console, into which you’ll enter your company’s Azure credentials. Horizon Cloud will then automatically build out the entire environment for you in Azure. This model means that your compute and VMware licensing will be billed separately, with compute resource billing coming from Azure and VMware license billing coming from VMware.
No pricing has been announced, though you can expect it to be similar to Horizon Cloud’s current $16 per user, per month in addition to whatever the Azure resources cost.
Since putting desktop workloads on other, non-vSphere, providers was said to be challenging, I asked about VMware’s plans for protocol support in Azure. While I got no definitive answer on whether or not Blast, RDP, or PCoIP would be included in the offering, I was told that, “…certainly we expect Blast to be supported.” It appears that a ruling has yet to be made on PCoIP support (I’m assuming RDP will just work), so if you are thinking about using Horizon Cloud on Azure and want to have support for PCoIP, let your VMware rep know.
If you're curious what the issue is with protocol support, I’m told it boils down to the display drivers themselves. Being tied to vSphere means that VMware can easily support Horizon on any vSphere-based platform (on-premises, public cloud, private cloud), but in order to support anything that doesn’t use vSphere means that the drivers have to be modified. It is by no means impossible, but that project has been on the back burner until now.
Currently, VMware expects to support application-based workloads on Azure first, followed quickly by desktop-based workloads. Both are expected to be generally available in the second half of 2017, though I couldn’t get any confirmation that we could expect to see GA at VMworld. It’s safe to assume that’s the goal, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw demos at VMworld while the release happened a bit later.
After the Azure support is worked out, VMware plans to add support for AWS as well.
Apart from being shocked that VMware has so quickly shifted attention to Microsoft, I think it’s a solid move on their part to keep their names in the conversation as customers and service providers look increasingly towards Azure. Of course, the devil is in the details, so we’ll have to look more closely at them as they come out to see if there are any differences between platforms. For example, we may find that a display driver running on vSphere has a different set of features than it does on Azure or AWS.
Assuming that all the important features are the same across the board, though, the release of VMware Horizon Cloud with support for Azure will serve to level the playing field with Citrix and other platforms that were picking up steam. Like it or not, it really will beg the question, “I wonder how Citrix’s platform compares to VMware’s?” once again.