VMware Gives AWS Keys to Its Enterprise Data Center Kingdom

Partnership promises seamless integration between on-prem VMware environments and VMware in Amazon’s cloud.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

October 14, 2016

3 Min Read
VMware CEO Pat Gelsigner speaking at VMworld 2014 in San Francisco.VMware

VMware has partnered with Amazon Web Services to sell its data center automation software as a service on Amazon’s cloud.

The move, aimed squarely at the enterprise market, is a strategic about-face for both companies, who in the past viewed each other as competition. As the world’s biggest provider of cloud infrastructure services, Amazon has been perceived as a huge competitive threat to VMware’s ubiquitous presence in enterprise data centers.

“This becomes the primary public cloud offering of VMware,” VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said Thursday while standing alongside AWS CEO Andy Jassy at a press conference in San Francisco. “We will be selling this broadly through our salesforce.”

News of the partnership was leaked to the press earlier this month.

VMware’s own public cloud service, vCloud Air, will remain as is, he said, explaining that the company had customers who were using it for highly specialized workloads.

It will not remain exactly the same, however. VMware, which is now majority owned by Dell Technologies, recently sold the portion of the business that provides cloud services to government agencies to data center provider QTS.

Slated for initial release next year, VMware Cloud on AWS will offer VMware’s Software Defined Data Center platform, which encompasses tools for virtual compute, storage, and networking, as a cloud service running on bare-metal servers in AWS data centers. The companies are promising seamless integration between VMware environments in customers' enterprise data centers and ther VMware environments in Amazon’s cloud. They will even be able to use their existing VMware accounts to pay for the cloud service.

This is VMware’s second partnership with a major cloud provider. At VMworld in August, the company announced it will also provide its data center suite as a service on IBM’s cloud.

While AWS’s initial period of growth was fueled by software startups to whom it offered access to hyper-scale infrastructure they could never build themselves, the company’s eye has always been on the enterprise market. “While startups were the first group of people we expected to use the cloud … we always expected that the largest consumers of AWS will be enterprises and governments,” Jassy said.

Amazon and its competitors – Microsoft, IBM, and Google, among others – have been pursuing the enterprise market with a vengeance. Many companies, especially major data center hardware and software vendors disrupted by Amazon, have maintained that the hybrid infrastructure model, which combines hardware hosted in companies’ own data centers with public cloud services, has become the preferred model for most enterprises.

Amazon has not been on the same page exactly.

Just last year, Stephen Orban, head of enterprise strategy for AWS, said at a conference that the company’s end goal was to replace the enterprise data center altogether. Amazon viewed hybrid cloud as a necessary evil of sorts, a stepping stone companies need to make the transition from all-on-prem to all-cloud enterprise infrastructure.

At the press conference Thursday, Jassy maintained that because of its scale, AWS can in most cases reduce the cost of infrastructure for enterprises.

The new partnership is a sign of recognition by Amazon that at least some portion of the on-premise enterprise data center is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Asked just how long VMware expected enterprise data centers to stick around, Gelsinger said the hybrid model will be around for “decades.”

Besides things like regulations and compliance, which require many companies to store data in-house, or at least within their countries’ borders, one of the biggest reasons it’s not easy to convince enterprises to replace on-prem environments with cloud services are the huge sums of money they have already invested in those environments. “They want to use the same hardware to run their infrastructure on premises” and the same infrastructure software to manage it, Jassy said.

Turning VMware from foe to friend and making it easy to use its software on AWS gives Amazon the kind of access to the enterprise data center market it has never had.

“The vast majority of enterprises in the world are virtualized on VMware,” Jassy said. “I don’t’ think this is like anything else we’ve done in the market, or intend to do.”

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