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(Scroll down to see a video interview with VMware’s Bill Fathers.)
As VMware maneuvers in the cloud era, it must address the footprint of the sector’s current leader, Amazon Web Services. VMware’s stance toward AWS appears to be a delicate balance of competition and interoperability. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” – or at least work with them so closely that their success doesn’t overshadow your success.
Cleary, VMware has its own major advantages: the company’s pioneering virtualization software has vast enterprise adoption – it claims more than 500,000 customers, including the entire Fortune 100. For many companies, a virtualized data center is essentially the same as a private cloud, so VMware has already ushered them into the cloud era. Still, there’s Amazon, with its commanding lead in mindshare, not to mention extremely aggressive pricing and a constantly expanding feature set.
At the recent Gigaom Structure event, I spoke with Bill Fathers, SVP and GM of VMware’s Hybrid Cloud Services, about AWS and other cloud-related issues. What’s VMware’s stance toward Amazon?
“We offer them [enterprise customers] an alternative solution to AWS,” Fathers said. “We’re offering them a public cloud solution that allows them to take advantage of the investments they’ve already made in VMware’s technology, but still get the benefits in terms of agility and cost savings that come from embracing the public cloud.”
VMware’s focus, he said, is openness. “So our sense is that clients want to be able to move into the public cloud without any sense of lock-in, being sure that if they wanted to move back on-premise, or perhaps shift to an alternative provider, that in no sense do they become locked-in." VMware positions itself relative to Amazon as "an open cloud that’s entirely compatible with [customers] existing environment.”
In keeping with this spirit of open interoperability, Fathers notes that VMware “has been this neutral layer of hypervisor for many years, we’ve interoperated with over 5,000 applications, we interoperate with any kind of hardware.” He made a nod to OpenStack – “we look a great deal at standards like OpenStack, and to the extent to which we can interoperate with other standards, we do.” However, VMware’s deepest friendships have been with the classic legacy players. “But for now, we’re pretty focused on making sure all the applications out there – be it Microsoft, Oracle, SAP – are going to work with equal ease and efficiency rather than favoring one stack over another.”
New technologies are not only evolving faster than ever, but upending enterprise tech at a remarkable rate. Specifically, the emergence of Docker, with its open source “container” technology, has quickly gained major adherents, from Google to Red Hat to Microsoft. This distributed application management platform has, in the view of some, the potential to challenge VMware’s dominant role in virtualizing the data center.
“I think there’s an emerging category of application for which containers represents potentially a very efficient way of using infrastructure,” Fathers said. “I think we’re sort of watching the space closely, we’re starting to work closely with some of the early movers. We’re looking at compatibility with Docker on our platform. [We’re] really being client driven – so we don’t see it as something that many of clients are that interested in yet, but it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.”
A key questions facing VMware is: can it move beyond its core position in legacy systems into the rapid growth area of hybrid cloud that enterprises are now embracing. Fathers addressed this when I asked about VMware’s future:
“I think we can see ourselves shifting as a business from one that’s perceived as selling on-premises software to a company that’s providing a hybrid solution,” he said. “So we think, going forward, clients are going to live in this world where, today, [although] less than two percent of the workload is sitting in the public cloud, it’s likely that in the next 10 or 15 years, clients are going to have this mix of on-premise and off-premise environment. And we’re very focused on how you can make that work for them, so they get to take advantages of the investments they’ve already made.”
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