It’s been termed a stealth attack on VMware and a Trojan horse tactic by Amazon. Given the current focus on hybrid cloud computing it’s also completely understandable if not inevitable.

Here’s what all the fuss is about. At the end of May Amazon, with little fanfare, announced a new AWS Management Portal for vCenter. As the name suggests, this free plug-in for vCenter makes it possible to deploy and manage workloads on Amazon’s cloud from within the same management console that the majority of the world uses for on-premises virtualization. Also included was integration support for VM Import which enables migration of a VM from a VMware virtual environment to the AWS cloud. This automates the conversion of the VM from VMware to an elastic compute cloud (EC2) instance.

The announcement caused a sensation among those of us who cover cloud computing, particularly cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service. One pundit referred to it as a “stealth bomb“. With this move Amazon has achieved a bridge into the enterprise (where it doesn’t have a native presence) using a competitor’s flagship product. VMware understandably would not be pleased as it has its own cloud service (vCloud Hybrid Services) as well as a growing partner community of VMware-based cloud service providers.

Virtual management players like VMware and Microsoft think hybrid is great, so long as the internal and external clouds are both running on their platform. Microsoft, for example, has been pushing a hybrid IaaS model based on Hyper-V virtualization, the Microsoft Azure cloud, and System Center 2012.

But this un-wanted arranged marriage of VMware with AWS is more than a little inevitable if you consider the facts:

  • Hybrid clouds are a hot topic. Though cloud computing has been getting a lot of attention we are not seeing a wholesale flight to the cloud. When it comes to infrastructure as a service, most see a Hybrid Cloud at least for the near future where certain workloads will stay internal (private cloud) and others will be moved to external clouds depending on cost and risk (see below).
  • VMware is the market leader when it comes to enterprise data center virtualization. Something like three quarters of industry standard server workloads are now running on virtual machines. Many organizations are now over 90 percent virtualized. Most of that is running on VMware.
  • Amazon Web Services dominates the public cloud computing landscape. Though companies like Microsoft (Azure) have been making strong plays for the number two spot, Amazon has far and away the biggest cloud and the most cloud based workloads running today.

Given the above facts, a hybrid cloud arrangement that leveraged VMware for the internal private and Amazon for the external public clouds makes a lot of sense. The IT department that has invested years in internal virtualization with VMware can now branch out to the Amazon cloud without having to learn new tools or leave tried and true vCenter behind.

VMware’s rebuttal to all this came in the form of a blog from VMware CTO for the Americas Chris Wolf. In “Don’t Be Fooled By Import Tools Disguised as Hybrid Cloud Management” Wolf warns that migration and basic management are not enough to cover all the dependencies and third party integrations necessary for true hybrid cloud management.

Wolf makes some good points. This is not comprehensive management and the VMware/AWS hybrid is not very dynamic. We also find that integration is also a major concern in cloud projects (after security and availability). But I think there are many scenarios where AWS Management Portal for vCenter can deliver real value. If your cloud strategy has identified some workloads that are pilot candidates for external cloud, the management portal provides a low cost migration (or creation) gateway to Amazon’s cloud without disrupting current management practices.

VMware just better hope that this gateway doesn’t prove to be a gateway drug for Amazon addiction.

Due diligence around identifying candidate applications and services for the external versus internal clouds is a key part of Info-Tech’s Cloud Strategy workshop. Click the image below to check out the project blueprint.

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Build-a-Case-for-Windows-Server-2012-Hyper-VDon’t let jerks drive your consideration of Microsoft Hyper-V.

Knee jerks, that is.

Now is a legitimate time to at least evaluate the option of Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V for server virtualization as well as a foundation for hybrid cloud. But it needs to be a carefully considered evaluation. This is not a snap decision, and certainly not a no-brainer.

We’ve heard the stories. An organization’s IT department is looking at Hyper-v because they have been volun-told to do so by senior management. The reasons – they hate paying VMware licensing and support costs and saw a slick Microsoft presentation extolling the virtues of “free” Hyper-V.

On the other end of the spectrum you might have your own veteran VMware administrators.

“VMware is just plain better,” they will say. “It has more and better features and is better to manage.” End of story. Case closed.

Well, not quite. Microsoft was late to the virtualization party and even a couple of years ago there were missing pieces. But Hyper-V has improved enormously and has largely caught up with VMware across most feature and function categories. Is it better? No. But it could well be good enough for your needs especially if your infrastructure is already Microsoft-centric.

In our “Build a Case for Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V” project blueprint we call for careful consideration by all stakeholders of the strategic role of virtualization in your organization. That includes a frank discussion of both the strengths and weeknesses of both VMware and Hyper-V.

The intended outcome is a clear roadmap for testing and piloting Hyper-V for a range of possible roles, from niche uses in a multi-hypervisor environment to full-on migration for everything. The guiding insights for the whole project are:
  1. This is not a race: VMware is the undisputed market leader in server virtualization, but to “win” Microsoft only needs to be in the running as a viable and legitimate alternative.
  2. Focus on the “I” in ROI: Establish what benefits you are expecting to get out of virtualization, now and in the future, and look to reduce the investment cost for a comparable return.
  3. On paper is not good enough: The features and benefits of Microsoft virtualization look comparable to VMWare, but these need to be proven. Identify opportunity and test, test, test.

I recently came across a case that nicely illustrates the sort of approach we recommend. ABM, an international systems management firm, recently moved from VMware to Hyper-V. Yes, it was license renewal time, and there was a cost-saving opportunity. But they also wanted proof that Hyper-V would work.

I had to smile when I read that ABM assistant vice president, global infrastructure services, Andre Garcia sent his “two biggest VMware bigots” to Hyper-V training. They were converted. But ABM still hired consultants to help make sure the transition didn’t cause any costly errors.

ABM is saving about $2 million and is exploring hybrid cloud infrastructure with Microsoft Azure (which is essentially a big Hyper-V cluster in the cloud). But they didn’t take this move lightly hastily. No knee jerks here.

For more on our Hyper-V case project see:

For more on the ABM case

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Disk Drive ImageVVOLs (pronounced Vee-Valls) were a hot topic in our doing the rounds of storage vendor conferences last year. Just about everybody had them on their roadmaps. For storage in VMware virtual server environments, it was going to be the next big thing.

We’re still waiting for them. What gives?

What are VVOLs? Potentially, they are a solution to a limitation of storage management in virtual environments. The basic unit of management in your typical SAN storage array is the logical unit or LUN. The LUN is what a network connected server sees as an addressable disk drive. All the fancy advanced features in storage arrays – thin provisioning, snapshots, and replication – happen at the LUN level.

LUNs make sense for physical servers, each server gets a LUN or LUNs, and in a server cluster multiple servers might share access to a LUN. But when you add virtualization to the equation you get dozens or even hundreds of virtual servers running on a single physical device. Each of those VMs has its own virtual hard drive and multiple virtual hard drives can be hosted in a single LUN.

Now, you can provision a LUN for each virtual machine but storage arrays weren’t really meant to work that way (having a single physical server accessing dozens or hundreds of LUNs). It is very complex to manage and there are functional limits to how many LUNs can be provisioned.

No, the better way would be to be able to apply storage management features like snapshots at the sub-LUN level. That’s what vVols are about, managing storage at the virtual volume (VVOLs) level. VMware promoted the coming VVOLs at the annual VMworld conference back in September 2012 and, as noted above, it was a hot topic in storage vendor briefings into 2013. Our most recent storage Vendor Landscape reports specifically mention vVols as a coming soon technology.

But at the September 2013 VMworld there was nary a word about VVOLs. The big thing in storage was vSAN, technology for virtualizing storage management built into the VMware hypervisor. vSAN is cool and has a lot of potential which we’ll talk about in another post. But VVOLs are also cool and we have been in wait and see mode for almost two years.

I suspect we’ll be in wait and see mode for at least another three months, that’s when the next VMworld event is scheduled. If we don’t hear about vVols at this year’s VMworld I’m wondering if this one might become a permanent “next year” project. Shame if it does as VVOLs have loads of potential for storage management.

Info-Tech’s “Vendor Landscape: Mid-Range to Entry Enterprise Storage Arrays” and “Vendor Landscape: Small to Mid-Range Storage Arrays” both note that, with regard to VVOLs, “VMware has yet to pull the trigger on its Virtual Volume (VVOL) technology, previewed at VMworld 2012. Some vendors consider themselves well poised for the eventual release, but others remain in wait-and-see mode.” Hopefully wait and see won’t go on much longer.

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citrix workspaceAs the competition heats up Citrix used its annual enterprise user conference (Citrix Synergy, May 6-8) to announce a unified solution for accessing apps, data and services from multiple corporate and personal devices — and then a cloud service for the enterprise or service providers to create and deploy these integrated workspaces.

This is what the face of post-PC, mobile, cloud-based, bring your own device, corporate end user computing is going to look like. Not a Windows desktop – though a desktop-as-a-service will be there for those who need one — but rather an integrated workspace where one can securely access all their applications, services, and data from any device.

Citrix Workspace Suite combines the full gamut of Citrix mobile, virtual, and remote access technologies including application and desktop virtualization (XenApp, XenDesktop), mobile application (XenMobile) and mobile device management, file synchronization and sharing (ShareFile), WAN optimization and gateway access (NetScaler).

Earlier this year rival VMware announced Horizon 6 which provides a unified workspace for accessing applications and virtual desktops from multiple devices. Horizon 6 included for the first time (for VMware) access to hosted Windows applications via Microsoft Remote Desktop Services.

Remote access of hosted Windows applications is where Citrix got started and remains a big part of their business (XenApp). The question was how was Citrix going to respond to this challenge (see VMware Goes where Citrix Lives with Horizon 6). Workspace Suite is a big part of that response. Citrix is also offering 50% discounts to prospective customers that migrate to Workspace Suite from Horizon 6.

The cornerstones of Workspace Suite remain XenApp and XenDesktop. Also announced at the conference was a suite of migration tools for moving from XenApp 6.5 to XenApp 7.5. These will be available in the second half of 2014.
The migration tools are particularly welcome. XenApp 7.5 is based on a different technology than XenApp 6.5 so migration is not an upgrade but a wholesale move to a new platform (see Mobility Heat Behind XenApp’s Return). Citrix needs to make it easy and painless to do so or risk customers moving to something else.

Citrix Workspace Services is a cloud platform for designing, building, and delivering mobile workspaces. Built on Microsoft Azure the service fully automates the creation and deployment of a Citrix workspace (desktops-as-a-service, application delivery, mobile services, etc) on a public cloud, a private cloud, or a corporate data center.

The partnership with Microsoft was a significant reveal at Synergy. VMware’s leveraging Microsoft for application hosting, as well as Microsoft’s own marketing of Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in Windows 2012 has had many asking if Microsoft’s traditionally friendly relationship with Citrix was waning.

Clearly the relationship with Microsoft is as strong, if not stronger, than before. I don’t think Microsoft really cares who they partner with, so long as they get paid for client access and virtual desktop access licenses in the end. Notably there was no change in Microsoft licensing practices included in any of the workspace announcements.

Like the migration tools the cloud platform will also not be available until the second half of the year. With VMware also talking Cloud desktop as a service I think Citrix needed to get the word out ASAP.

Some other goodies demonstrated at Synergy:

  • Additional connectors and a connector SDK for Citrix Sharefile. Sharefile provides a secured “corporate dropbox” function. With connectors you can access access other file stores such as a network file share or other sync and share services such as EverNote, Box, and, well, DropBox. You can also automate the migration of files from a public share like dropbox to a secured folder in ShareFile.
  • Enhancements to Citrix Receiver. Demonstrated was HTML5 browser-based access from any device including access from Chrome. Improvements include enhance security support, support for USB 3.0 peripherals, and 3D graphics acceleration.
  • New XenMobile version and new mobile apps. XenMobile 9 includes a number of cool feature enhancements that had conference attendees buzzing. In addition to adding support for Windows 8 Phone Citrix also announced three new apps – WorxNotes, WorxEdit, WorxDesktop – that also garnered significant excitement. The new apps are currently only in tech preview.
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security and the cloudAs the faithful descend on Anaheim California this week for Citrix Synergy (May 6-8) the competition is heating up. Microsoft and VMware are both challenging Citrix’s traditional core business.

Citrix built its business on delivering access from desktop PCs and thin clients to server hosted Windows desktop applications. Growth over the years has included network optimization (Netscaler), machine virtualization and cloud computing (XenServer, CloudStack), virtual desktop infrastructure (XenDesktop), and most recently mobile device management and mobile cloud.

As the big trends – like virtualization and cloud and mobility and bring-your-own and consumerization — have emerged, Citrix has been right there. But in this Citrix has certainly not been alone. The competition is now circling back to where it started for Citrix, with the delivery of access to server hosted Windows applications.

That was then

Five or so years ago Microsoft was behind both Citrix and VMware when it came to server virtualization and desktop virtualization respectively. On the server side VMware was the clear leader but Citrix was a promising alternative with many of the capabilities of VMware and lower pricing. Microsoft was also on the scene with Hyper-V but it was a nascent alternative and lacked some key features found with both VMware and Citrix.

In desktop virtualization Citrix was the leader through breadth of products. If you define desktop virtualization broadly as offering user access to windows software not running natively on a PC (including access from a thin client) Citrix had both traditional application hosting (XenApp) as well as the emerging full virtual desktop hosting of virtual desktop infrastructure (XenDesktop). Here VMware was the clear number two competitor having pretty much invented VDI. Microsoft was trailing, still struggling to figure out how to protect its revenue when instances of Microsoft Windows are no longer hard wired to each PC sold.

This is now

Of the three – Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware – the one that has changed its position the most is Microsoft. In server virtualization Microsoft Hyper-V is now firmly established at the number two position in market share and capabilities. With virtual desktops licensing is still a pain, but Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (formerly known as Terminal Services) have come a long way. Remote Desktop Session Hosting (RDSH) brings capabilities that previously required Citrix riding on top of Terminal Services to deliver. Remote Desktop Virtual Hosting can be used for full virtual desktops (VDI).

Long time users of XenApp have been asking, “Why do I need XenApp to deliver access to server hosted Windows applications? Seems I can do pretty much the same with RDS when I upgrade my servers to Windows 2012.” The answer, for the Citrix advocate, is to point to the things that RDS still does not do. Things like more robust management and the ability to access those apps from a variety of devices and platforms such as iOS and Android.

Ah, but now along comes VMware with its latest end user computing software Horizon 6 which promises not only multi-device and mobile access but also integrated access to both VDI and server hosted Windows applications via integration with Microsoft’s APIs for RDS. Like Citrix, VMware is also getting into enterprise mobility with its acquisition of Airwatch. Also like Citrix, it is building a stack for hosting desktop virtualization on external clouds. Oh, and Horizon 6 can also integrate access to XenApp hosted applications.

So one can see scenarios where an organization with fairly modest goals of delivering server hosted applications to Windows devices could use Windows Server 2012 RDS and another organization with more dynamic, mobile, multi-device needs could add Microsoft RDS hosted apps to a menu of services through Horizon 6.

Still number one

Let’s not get too carried away here. For end user computing Citrix is still the market leader. I am sure we’ll see some exciting stuff come out of Synergy this week. Citrix can also rightly argue that Microsoft and especially VMware are essentially playing catch up, that Horizon 6 is only now bringing VMware close to the capabilities that XenDesktop has had for a while. Citrix can argue that they have been right all along.

All true. But also true is that Citrix may also have real competition across the board for the first time. Its going to be an interesting year.

For more see:

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