Deciphering VMware's OpenStack Play

September 23, 2014 Thomas Orozco

A couple weeks ago at VMworld, VMware announced that it was introducing “VMware OpenStack”, an integrated OpenStack release that is specifically designed (or configured?) to be deployed on a VMware virtualization layer (note: if you’re unfamiliar with what a “resource layer” is in this context, we encourage you to review this paper).

Is This New Software?

Not really. VMware OpenStack is essentially a repackaging of existing functionality and software. Indeed, OpenStack support for VMware virtualization is not new:

  • - For compute virtualization, OpenStack Nova already supports VMware vSphere

  • - For network virtualization, OpenStack Neutron already supports VMware NSX

  • - For storage virtualization, OpenStack Cinder and Glance already support VMware VSAN and vSphere storage

So, in other words, OpenStack already had support for VMware virtualization software (and all of that is open-source), and therefore VMware OpenStack is not actually much more than an OpenStack distribution that is pre-configuredto integrate with VMware virtualization software.


Then What is VMware’s Value Add?

The central value proposition of VMware OpenStack is to easily deploy OpenStack on an existing VMware “Software Defined Data Center” (SDDC); a VMware virtualized resource layer.

To that end, VMware provides an OpenStack installer (which ships as an OVF package). VMware argues it will let you trivially deploy OpenStack to an existing VMware infrastructure, configure it, and manage the controller services (to learn more, the SDDC2198 VMworld session includes a demo, and can be viewed online).

Note that, functionally, this is somewhat similar to what Mirantis provides with Mirantis Fuel.


Is It Still OpenStack When It’s VMware OpenStack?

Fundamentally, OpenStack’s functionality and core value proposition is to abstract away your virtualization infrastructure, and present standardized developer-friendly APIs.

Now, the APIs exposed by VMware OpenStack are the actual OpenStack APIs. So, yes, VMware OpenStack is in fact OpenStack. As such, it will be compatible with the ecosystem of tools that have been developed around OpenStack itself — including Cloud Management Platforms like Scalr.


Then, What Is VMware’s Strategy?

To understand what VMware OpenStack means for VMware, it’s useful to step back for a minute and look at what OpenStack itself means for VMware.


Why Is OpenStack a threat to VMware?

OpenStack is gearing up to become the dominant cloud platform in the enterprise private cloud market (it is gaining momentum faster than competing platforms CloudStack and Eucalyptus). This is a concern for VMware, for the two following reasons.

First, because OpenStack directly competes for market share with certain VMware offerings, namely the vCloud suite.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, because when enterprises adopt OpenStack, they tend to consider phasing out VMware virtualization entirely.

That is because deploying OpenStack is a time-consuming and costly process (see this blog post to understand why), which tends to drive enterprises to reconsider their investment in VMware. Indeed:

  • If you’re overhauling your entire IT infrastructure to deploy OpenStack, phasing out VMware may be perceived as only a marginal effort.

  • If you’re budgeting an expensive OpenStack deployment, phasing out VMware may be perceived as a way to mitigate those costs (because VMware software and support is expensive).

Note that companies like Nebula that deliver “all-in-one OpenStack” (hardware + virtualization + openstack) largely benefit from that “we might as well throw VMware away when we adopt OpenStack” trend.


So how does VMware OpenStack help VMware?

VMware OpenStack is VMware’s answer to the second OpenStack concern explained earlier.

By providing its customers with a frictionless adoption path for OpenStack, VMware hopes to eliminate the incentive to phase out VMware when adopting OpenStack. That is, if you can deploy OpenStack in a few hours thanks to VMware, you might not actually consider phasing VMware when you do so.

This is, however, a risky play for VMware. Indeed, once their applications have been migrated to exclusively use the OpenStack APIs, ambitious IT departments might consider phasing out both VMware OpenStack and Vmware virtualization in order to deploy “regular“ OpenStack on top of free and open-source virtualization software.

Therefore, it remains to be seen how VMware intends to remain relevant. Friction alone might be enough to preserve its customer base, or VMware could try and secure lock-in over its customers once again here — possibly by integrating with supplemental proprietary VMware software.


What about vCloud?

vCloud was briefly mentioned in VMware OpenStack announcements. However, it remains notoriously absent from architectural diagrams:


It is fair to assume that VMware may be unsure about — and possibly internally divided over — its OpenStack strategy. That would explain why VMware is simultaneously embracing and disparaging OpenStack.

VMware’s Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) group may view VMware OpenStack as a way to preserve its customer base, but in doing so, it could very well weaken vCloud’s market position and cannibalize its market share.  

Surely, these are interesting times we live in, as we watch VMware attempting to redefine itself now that OpenStack is en route to becoming a dominant force in enterprise IT.



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