Industry Voices—Raynovich: VMware’s cloud within a cloud

VMware put together all of its cloud and Kubernetes pieces at last week's VMworld conference in San Francisco. (FierceTelecom)

After being swallowed up in last week’s VMworld universe of 20,000 cloudy people for a total of four days, it’s good to take a few days to digest what’s happened, and try to put together a strategic picture of VMware’s mega-moves in the cloud.

In short, VMware has a cogent and potent plan to own the cloud. All of it. VMware is building the cloud within the cloud. A self-contained cloud universe that can travel wherever you want to take your applications.

By piecing together its substantial footprint in virtual machine (VM) technology, management platforms such as vRealize, VMotion, and Kubernetes management acquisitions such as Heptio and Bitnami, VMware has put all the pieces together to own an entire multi-cloud franchise capable of managing and moving compute workloads to wherever people need them, whether it’s on-premises private cloud, public cloud, or various hybrid cloud and multi-cloud configurations.

Many of the cloud technologists I spoke with were impressed. VMware’s strategy is getting rave reviews.

"What VMware has done is a brilliant thing,” said Simon Crosby, former chief technology officer of Citrix’ cloud division, the Co-founder and former CTO of cybersecurity company Bromium, and now CTO of SWIM.AI. “It allows virtual machines to be cool and hip and up with the latest tech. What they’ll do is make it possible for workloads in VMs to move to a Kubernetes cloud. The IT folk who have only ever used vCenter can continue to do what they are doing. Pivotal can play on top."

Voracious cloud appetite

Much of VMware’s new strategy is built around Kubernetes, the open-source container management technology developed by Google that has exploded in recent years to become one of the most popular ways to build distributed workloads that can operate across clouds, leveraging computing power wherever it may reside.

Kubernetes and containers, which virtualize server operator systems, were once thought to be a threat to VMware, which owns a huge franchises in managing VMs. That’s because Kubernetes can be used to deliver apps that consume less computing overhead than VM-based apps. It’s not always cut and dry, however, as VMs and containers both have strengths and weaknesses that lend themselves better to specific apps.

But, now VMware has bulked up on container and Kubernetes software. It has spent billions acquiring companies that add to its Kubernetes technology, including Heptio (2018), Bitnami (2019), and Pivotal (last month.)  VMware has unfurled its plan to be a key provider of container-based applications development and management tools. VMware calls this strategy "Tanzu." As part of this plan, it announced Project Pacific, which is the integration of Kubernetes container management technology into VMware's vSphere. 

One vision really stuck out last week. VMware executives in a keynote demonstrated how they could use VMware’s vMotion software to move a live workload from a private cloud running on VMs to a public cloud instance using Kubernetes, while the applications was still in production. This demo best encompassed how VMware wants to use its cloud-within-a-cloud approach to keep customers captive on its software platform, so they can use it to manage their applications wherever they go. It doesn’t matter whether its VMs or containers, private cloud or public cloud, VMware wants to own the management of the applications and workloads.

And, then there’s Pivotal. Originally spun off from VMware, Pivotal is an application development and management platform that VMware recently bought back from the public market. It really makes sense that Pivotal comes back into VMware because building a development platform is something that public investors clearly don’t have the patience for (Pivotal was trading only marginally higher from its IPO in 2012) – and now VMware can plug in Pivotal as the applications development environment for its VM-and-Kubernetes cloud within the cloud.

Of course, that’s not all. VMware has another few billion dollars in acquisitions under its belt in the last few years, including VeloCloud, Cloud Health, and last month’s deal for Carbon Black, which it announced at the same time as Pivotal. The common theme is that VMware aims to integrate all of these technologies into its core platform, as it did when it bought software-defined networking (SDN) company Nicira in 2012 and used it to build NSX, the virtual networking technology.

VMware has already painted a picture for the deep integration of these assets. VeloCloud is already becoming a natural WAN complement to NSX, which was originally focused on intra-datacenter connectivity. Multi-cloud means the WAN will become more important, so VeloCloud will be a key technology that can be used to extend NSX to the edge. Carbon Black’s cybersecurity analytics technology, originally targeted at endpoints, will be integrated deeper into VMware’s cloud technology to yield “intrinsic security,” according to VMware executives.

Finding the lock in

As they say – lock-in is key to ruling the information technology industry. And although it’s hard to lock in customers to a cloud, VMware is aiming to do just that by building a sticky management platform that keeps its users on VMware, whether that’s a public cloud instance or private cloud instance – or both. It’s not clear to me that any of the mega-IT Goliaths, such as HPE and IBM,  have demonstrated as coherent a strategy to integrate their wide-ranging technology pieces into one platform. VMware’s biggest competitors right now are the public cloud providers – such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure – but those players don’t own as strong a position in private cloud as VMware does. With a paltry $60 billion market capitalization next to Microsoft’s $1 trillion value and Amazon’s $900 billion, VMware has a lot to gain.

IBM has made a key large acquisition in Red Hat, which poses the most viable threat to VMware in cloud management, but IBM must disprove critics of its mixed track record in integrating large acquisitions.  

RELATED: Raynovich: Inside IBM's desperation Red Hat move

VMware also has big advantage over the hardware conglomerates, including Cisco and HPE, because it's a software pure play, kept independent from its preferred hardware partner, Dell (which owns 81% of VMware.) This enables it to focus on software only that can run on a variety of hardware, while working on deeper integration with Dell.

In short, VMware’s now in the best position to own multi-cloud management, which could become the most important franchise in enterprise tech. It’s now all down to the execution.

R. Scott Raynovich is the founder and chief analyst of Futuriom. For two decades, he has been covering a wide range of technology as an editor, analyst, and publisher. Most recently, he was VP of research at, which acquired his previous technology website, Rayno Report, in 2015. Prior to that, he was the editor in chief of Light Reading, where he worked for nine years. Raynovich has also served as investment editor at Red Herring, where he started the New York bureau and helped build the original website. He has won several industry awards, including an Editor & Publisher award for Best Business Blog, and his analysis has been featured by prominent media outlets including NPR, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @rayno.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.