Why Faction decided to move forward with VMware Cloud on AWS

At Faction, we’ve been doing private clouds over 9 years now, and when we’re not feeling particularly humble, we mention that we invented hybrid cloud. We’re also a huge VMware partner, and one of their largest service providers in North America, so we greeted their announcement of the VMware Cloud on AWS with both fear, skepticism, and enthusiasm. We were one of the first two service providers to have access to VMware on AWS beta, and we’ve been pushing hard to make the most of it, because our enthusiasm outweighed the other reactions.

In this post, we’ll talk about the potential we saw in this service, and why we thought fear and skepticism were valid reactions.

Why fear was a valid reaction

Fear was valid because, frankly, this is what we do: we build configurable private clouds, mostly based on VMware technology, and integrate them really well for our customers. VMware was becoming competition… again, because we survived and thrived through their roll out of vCloud Air. Then we realized that we add a lot of value for customers. Since we are one of VMware’s largest service providers, we’ve pretty much seen it and done it all.

We’ve faced the strangest technical problems. We’ve done weird migrations. We’ve integrated colo, public cloud, petabyte-scale storage, and other elements with our private cloud offering that most haven’t touched. So we’re pretty confident that our deep expertise in design, implementation, migration, and support are still great for customers, even if they see value in running VMware on AWS hardware.

Why skepticism was a valid reaction

Skepticism because we all know that VMware previously launched vCloud Air, and while it found a niche, it didn’t achieve a fraction of the hoped-for adoption. Still, we see this offering as different. Even their hardcore customers were reticent to adopt vCloud Air, partially because it didn’t reflect the tools and processes of their on-premises environments, as it had a different interface and API set. This mirrors our experience, where after 99% of our customers opted to add a dedicated vCenter server to their private clouds with us, we made it a standard part of our offering.

vCloud Air offered a way to get a VMware-based private cloud without doing it yourself – but at the end of the day, it had minimal differentiation from the providers in VMware’s ecosystem. A lot of potential customers found it expensive (which is ironic, since a number of service providers also complained to VMware it was “too cheap” – although we weren’t one of them!).

In this case, though, we think the skepticism is misplaced. VMware’s technology runs over 50,000,000 VMs right now, and is the foundation still of a lot of Fortune 500 and other large firms’ IT infrastructure. VMware is addressing their user experience by “doing it right” this time – giving customers direct access to vCenter, so they get the experience and tool they prefer. And in this case, VMware has a supreme differentiator – sitting inside of AWS. The key here is that AWS as a cloud provider isn’t really an infrastructure-centric company.

I know what you’re thinking! “Hold on, AWS is the largest cloud provider in the world, and their core business is infrastructure. How can you say they aren’t infrastructure-centric?”

Because AWS is powerful because of agility and the breadth of their platform services, not their infrastructure offering. We’ve worked with customers to deploy north of 65 petabytes of storage, split across the east and west coast, at a tiny fraction of what AWS would have charged – even if the customer could have landed the data in S3, which they could not because they needed file or block based storage, not object, for their application. We’re a tiny fraction of the size of AWS, but we can handily beat the economics of their cloud – whether that’s compute, network, or storage.

Where AWS shines is in their platform services. Most are already familiar with the early crop which are very widely used now: CloudFront for CDN, Route53 for DNS, AWS ELB for Load Balancing, RDS for databases. AWS has relentlessly innovated, and the strength of their platform is what has driven adoption – at the behest of developers, who increasingly drive IT decision-making, whether that be through influence or simple expensing.

We think pairing VMware Cloud-on-AWS with AWS proper can become the best of both worlds: Enterprises have a major, trusted partner providing a platform for their VMware-based workloads, with all the features and functionality they’ve come to know and love from VMware: non-disruptive maintenance through vMotion, snapshots and rollbacks, DRS to eliminate “hot spots”, and the power of virtualized networking – now enhanced by NSX. Pairing that with AWS means giving those VMware-based workloads fast, easy access to the breadth of AWS services.

How often have developers who need to deploy into a VMware environment wished they could turn up an RDS instance, or wished they could simply turn up ELB to load balance their application instances?  Or wished they could seed content into a world-wide CDN easily? Now they can.

Easier path to modernization of IT infrastructure

So yes, we think skepticism is misplaced. We think demand for this VMware cloud will be enormous, because it is not competitive with the aims of organizations moving to public cloud, but complementary, and leverages strengths of both VMware and AWS.

At Faction, we’ve been aware of this for a while, and we developed the Faction Internetwork eXchange (FIX) in order to help our private cloud customers easily connect their cloud environments with AWS, Azure, Google, Softlayer, and others. We know firsthand that this isn’t easy for our customers to do on their own; and some who turned to partners like telcos to help them build hybrid topologies discovered they were not getting the hoped-for benefits. Our cloud locations in Santa Clara, Portland, Northern Virginia are extremely proximate to the major public cloud nodes; and our turnkey networking lets our customers easily connect their Faction private cloud with their public cloud (or clouds) of their choice. We think VMware Cloud-on-AWS will offer this same experience for people who are both VMware and AWS customers – that is, most of the Fortune 500 and similar – and will significantly help them transform how they “do” IT.

Our last reaction, Enthusiasm

This leads to our last reaction: enthusiasm. No one knows hybrid cloud like we do – we literally have patents on it. No one knows VMware like we do – we’re one of the largest VMware providers in North America, but unlike some of the “giants” for whom that is still a fraction of their business, it’s the core of what we do. With our deep expertise we are uniquely positioned to help customers with strategy, assessment, implementation, management and monitoring, migration, backup, disaster recovery, and security — basically all the services they need to ensure a successful adoption. Best of all, our deep infrastructure expertise allows us to augment the VMware offering with custom hardware to solve for additional use cases – colocated equipment, bare metal servers, deep “data lake” storage that is too costly to store in public cloud, and others.

If you’re considering if and how to incorporate VMC on AWS into your cloud strategy, talk to us, and let us help.