VMware Cloud on AWS: To Move or Not (Part 1/3)


The past few years, cloud platforms and cloud services have been intensely hyped as the best next thing. With a diverse and growing number of cloud offerings, we got more options than ever before, and more solutions that can help IT and businesses in a new way. At the same time, more and more companies have moved towards a cloud platform (and back) and shared their knowledge and experiences about the process and the end results. The feedback and experiences has given IT and organizations a better insight of how these offerings can fit into our Business & IT strategy. But also, if we should move towards a cloud platform or make use of it.

When VMware announced a few years ago that it would join forces with AWS to build a new cloud solution, it was not completely clear how this would develop. However, since that time their offering has been heavily improved. With VMware’s ongoing and growing portfolio, they really created an unique and incredible service, with NSX & HCX playing a big part in this as well. With all the knowledge that I gained from my colleague’s (Especially Jeffrey Kusters) and the sessions I had on VMworld, let’s talk about how VMC on AWS has developed and if or when it could be interesting to make use of their service. So that we can answer the question “should organizations move or not move towards VMC on AWS”.

First things first, What is VMware Cloud on AWS?

VMware Cloud (VMC) on AWS is a hybrid cloud service which is jointly developed by VMware & Amazone. VMC on AWS feels and looks like the vSphere environment that you are used to but has at the same time all the benefits of a cloud platform. Customers have access to the 165+ services AWS offers, and can use the tools, scripts and 3th party plugins they know from an on-premise vSphere environment also on VMC. The only exception is that VMC on AWS doesn’t support vibs to be installed on the ESXi host. Besides that, mostly everything is supported. It runs vSphere on Bare Metal hosts in AWS and thus no nesting is involved. This means that ESXi hosts have optimal performance when using the resources of the hardware. At the same time, customers can also let their environment auto-scale towards more host & resources whenever this is needed.

Another big benefit of using VMC on AWS is the Automated Lifecycle Management (LCM). In this case, VMware will take care of patching and upgrading so that LCM won’t be your problem. At the same time, VMware is heavily investing and developing its own product portfolio as well and also bringing that on VMC on AWS. With a constant changing and improving product line, automatic LCM is definitely a big plus. Especially after the announcements that project Pacific & Project Tanzu will also come towards VMC on AWS. This way the customer can purely focus on their business, while infra becomes more of a commodity and new features and improvements automatically become available after a period of time.

VMC on AWS offers lots of great features and solutions, and it even takes some of the administrating burdens away like LCM or resource shortage with auto scaling. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to think about some of the core and fundamental design decisions. So, let’s talk about that.

Some Design Considerations when using VMC on AWS

Even though VMC on AWS offers great functionalities and flexibility, you still have to think about some of the core fundaments of infrastructure design, like redundancy or site availability. For example, Amazon EC2 hosts multiple locations world-wide and makes a distinction between Regions and Availability Zones. Each Region is a separate geographic area which contains multiple, isolated locations also known as Availability Zones (AZs). Within each region, you can decide in which AZ you’ll place your resources and data. If one AZ goes down, the resources for that AZ will also go down and this can happen. Amazon EC2 provides you the ability to place resources, such as instances, and data in multiple locations. Resources aren’t replicated across Regions unless you do so specifically. Still, quite some people assume that this will be automatically covered or protected by AWS, but it’s not. However, the VMC on AWS offering can also help you with this. Just like an on-premise datacenter, you can make use of stretched clusters, and in this case, stretch the clusters between 2 AZ’s in AWS. This mean that whenever an AZ goes down, HA and DRS will kick in and migrate the lost resources towards the other AZ. Those Good old vSphere functionalities also work on VMC on AWS. With the exception of fault tolerance, which is not supported between 2 AZ’s. However, I think that the use cases for Fault Tolerance are more and more decreasing, since most modern applications can solve availability issues within the app them self.

From an infrastructure perspective there are more things that needed to be considered when moving towards a cloud offering. Things like RTO, RPO, Latency and the network fundamentals in general. However, I think with VMware products like HCX and NSX, VMC on AWS got you well covered. VMware has grown from the “Software Defined Data Center” perspective towards a “Hybrid Cloud Platform”. Which I discussed in one of my earlier posts here as well. This shift really helps the organization to simplify IT in general and all the different types of workloads, costs, platforms and solutions it represents. Which definitely helps in forming a better Business & IT strategy. In the case of VMC on AWS, all the solutions are in place to tackle even the most difficult challenges for moving towards the cloud. There are different products that can help with different challenges, like managing costs in a hybrid world (wavefront), migrating workloads (HCX & NSX), or even to measure the impact of different cloud use cases (vROPs & Wavefront). However, to not make the post extremely lengthy, I’ll keep it short and divide those topics into different (future) posts. For now, it is good to know that the solutions are in place to tackle those different challenges. I don’t want to oversimplify it and state it is perfect without even some good argumentation, but for this article a technical deep dive is not the main goal. Instead I want to focus on what we can achieve and what some of the more pressing challenges could be.

Key Take-away

The key take away is that VMware’s product portfolio and VMC on AWS, has all the bits and pieces in place for organizations to make a successful transition towards the cloud. Even more important, VMware and AWS have developed the right products and offering that can really help Business & IT to leverage the power of a cloud platform or even a hybrid platform. They have all the right tools in place and offer an impressive product line & services.

However, it still doesn’t answer the question “Should we move or not move towards VMC on AWS?”. Which brings me to the next topic “Review your Applications Landscape”.
In the upcoming posts we’ll talk about the impact the application landscape has on the usefulness of a cloud platform and if it is even ready for a migration towards the cloud. Which is one of the most important factors before we can answer our question.

Hope you had fun reading and that I see you in the next post.


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