VMware for AWS Cloud: What You Need To Know

March 7, 2017 Alexander Green

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Last year at reInvent, Amazon’s annual event for the sprawling cloud empire known as Amazon Web Services, they made one announcement after another. One of the most important, especially for enterprises, was the release of VMware on AWS Cloud. It’s currently in the middle of a Technical Preview, but as we see more solutions that attempt to bridge the gap between public and private cloud servers it’s important to explain what it all means. 

 

Give Me the Short Version:


Most enterprises are running virtual machines that aren’t in the public cloud, either in on-premises infrastructure or in a home-grown data center somewhere in Idaho. These VMs are typically run on vSphere based clouds, but these aren’t small potatoes - we’re talking thousands of VMs running on thousands of physical servers. vSphere private clouds are a huge chunk of infrastructure for companies that were built before the cloud computing boom.


Here’s an example: consider the global operations of a company like Goldman Sachs. It has servers for modeling financial projections, systems for credit trading, international internal communication chats, and databases keeping track of licenses for Bloomberg terminals. In other words - lots of servers for lots of different reasons. Every enterprise has systems divided into specific use cases and servers that are public facing or used internally. This is a business that Amazon hasn’t been able to tap into, simply because these enterprises have deeply entrenched relationships and contracts with VMware, and dedicated data centers that have been maintained over decades. They’re filled with data lakes, company secrets, and bricks of legacy code holding down essential applications. Convincing IT administrators to shift all of this infrastructure to the public cloud just for the sake of unity isn’t easy.


So even as enterprises experiment and build pieces of their new infrastructure in the public cloud, there’s software that lives in vSphere based clouds. Sysadmins that know the ins and outs of their infrastructure. But it’s painful every now and then. AWS continues to innovate and develop an endless array of services and tools that private cloud infrastructure can benefit from.


Convincing enterprises to switch over isn’t easy because of the low ROI - high cost of movement, low return on investment. Which is why things like the AWS Snowmobile and Snowball have come into play - Amazon is willing to come to your data center in a truck and siphon your data and applications into the cloud thus lowering the cost of movement, and increasing the ROI.


So, a solution: VMware for AWS Cloud lets you deploy vSphere based clouds on AWS infrastructure - giving you the ability to use AWS tools on infrastructure you’re familiar with. The service integrates the capabilities of VMware’s compute, storage, and network virtualization products (vSphere, vSAN, and NSX), along with vCenter management, and optimizes it to run on AWS infrastructure. These newly deployed VMs have seamless local access to AWS services via APIs and CLI tools. This is powered by VMware Cloud Foundation, a data center where all infrastructure is completely virtualized.


In short, this enables customers to deploy enterprise-grade AWS cloud-based resources that are consistent with vSphere-based clouds. The result is a service that works with both on-premises private clouds and AWS services.


To summarize, your applications on AWS have an easier time collaborating and communicating with your applications, infrastructure, and data silos on the other side on the other side of the cloud. While it doesn’t make sense for smaller companies that primarily use public cloud services, it’s a strong step towards a more unified future for enterprises with services in private clouds.


VMware on AWS Cloud will be available for widespread use in mid-2017.

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Give Me the Long Version:


VMware on AWS Cloud is designed to integrate between on-premises infrastructures and Amazon Web Services. You can deploy native VMware environments on AWS and utilize Amazon’s services like better latency on databases with RDS, index data with CloudSearch, or deploy applications faster to your private VMs with Data Pipeline.


The core benefit is that you can use your existing copy of vCenter to manage infrastructure. If your organization is deeply nested with VMware, all of your investments into a private cloud infrastructure won’t be lost. Plus, if you’re deciding to completely switch over instead of co-existing, your VMs keep network identity and connections. We briefly touched on VMware Cloud Foundation above, but it is a completely virtualized stack running inside AWS infrastructure, but controlled from your data center.


I’m cloud native. What is vSphere?


vSphere is a server virtualization platform for managing virtual machine (VM) infrastructure on a large scale.


VMware vSphere includes the VMware ESX / ESXi hypervisor that functions as the virtualization server; vCenter Server, which manages vSphere environments; the VMware vSphere Client, which is used to install and manage virtual machines through the hypervisor; and VMware VMFS, the file system component from VMware.


Hypervisors allow you to run multiple VMs on a physical server host, typically with a few VMs per core. The hypervisor sits on the hardware, and VMs spun up sit on the hypervisor. If you’re coming from an AWS perspective, almost all of this has been abstracted away from you.  


Before VMware on AWS Cloud is released, if you want to experiment with this cross culture, you can deploy AWS VMs from vCenter through AWS Management Portal for vCenter.


What is NSX?


VMware NSX enables organizations to virtualize load balancing, firewalls and VPNs. The beauty behind NSX is that the solution works with any underlying networking hardware infrastructure and hypervisor. In other words, it’s a software version of network & security services like switching, routing, distributed firewalling, and load balancing. The AWS analogues would be amongst ELB, VPC and Route 53. If you use NSX and want streamlined solutions, AWS tools and services make a difference.


What is vSAN?


It’s VMware’s version of a virtual storage area network  - i.e. a collection of servers used for storage (i.e. a file server, a content server). The general benefit of a physical SAN is that by pooling everything into a SAN, it’s easier to access that data. These would be massive blocks of servers sitting in data centers that are solely responsible for storing data. All of the servers combine into one logical ‘unit’, so all data is distributed through one entry point. Take the digital version and you’ve got the same concept - fewer gates to access more resources.


If you’re using a cross between on-premises and cloud infrastructure, you may use Storage Gateway. But if you’re used to just S3, the beauty of this is lost on you - buckets have made things much easier.


Is it worth the work?


Honestly? You may be trading one master for another. But when you deploy vSphere based infrastructure into the public cloud, there’s two key benefits. First is that you’re swapping out your underlying hardware, which is good to reduce capital expenditure in the long run. The second is that you get direct access Amazon services without reinventing the wheel. Consider if you’ve ever used VMware DRS to help distribute physical resources to your VMs when in times of increased consumption. Instead of worrying about physical limitations, going forward you can schedule burst instances in AWS.


But consider what applications already on your vSphere environments would you really need to leverage onto AWS. Maybe for mobile applications where developers and DevOps teams can iterate much faster on AWS infrastructure with tools like Device Farm. Or take a similar scenario with a bank with data centers that aren’t going anywhere, but mobile apps or public facing desktop apps that need more resources. Nobody needs to know that your underlying hardware is being swapped out, as long as your software and middleware stacks remain the same, and gets better.


In the end, this is incredibly exciting, especially for enterprises that still have dedicated VMware infrastructure (meaning practically everyone). The solution that VMware on AWS Cloud is another future-forward option. 

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