A Conversation with Bill Fathers, Executive VP and General Manager VMware’s Cloud Services

March 16, 2015
A Conversation with Bill Fathers, Executive VP and General Manager VMware’s Cloud Services

As head of VMware’s Hybrid Cloud Services Business Unit, Bill Fathers knows what is driving customers to the hybrid cloud. Alongside our announcement of vCloud Air coming to Germany, we caught up with Fathers to discuss the hybrid cloud market and why customers are lining up. 

What is the demand for hybrid cloud like and is there an overuse or vagueness to the term that makes it confusing to clients?

The dam burst about 18 months ago. Things are mostly going to the cloud now. It’s not a question of persuading companies to go hybrid. It’s just telling them what we can do it for them. They want hybrid. They want agility, they want security and performance. Well, we’ve got it. We’ve got a private cloud solution that’s coupled with a hybrid bridge.

I don’t think there’s much dissonance amongst our clients with regards to what the hybrid cloud is and what it enables.. They know exactly what they want. They’re almost no variations to what they’re asking for, which is they realize that their application portfolio will span the public cloud and the on premises environment for the next 10 years.

What they want help with is how they make the best of that world. How they make the best of the fact that in reality they’re going to be in a hybrid usage mode for some time and – so very practically speaking – they want help with the commercial aspects of that.

Coming from the hardware background that have, where you have invested so much in building out your own data center, versus what you do today, do you have any poignant comparisons?

The main thing is agility. When you’re trying to do this yourself, you’re making multi-year commitments to hardware infrastructure at one layer or another. It means you just can’t move quickly and you can’t change direction.

Inevitably, the longest lead time item has been getting the infrastructure prepared for the development and test environment. If you have to spin it up in 30 seconds and then spin it down again when you’re finished and then have maybe 10 of them concurrently rather then using the same environment serially, you can shave months off your time to market.

If you look at the primary driver for wanting to embrace hybrid cloud, which is the magic combination of an on-premises private cloud and an off-premises public cloud with networking in between, then you get the best of both worlds. You can effectively move much quicker. You just retain a lot of flexibility. Meaning you might have something that you only need for a period of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and then you can wind it down again.

Does that mean switching providers is easy?

No, switching providers is very difficult and costly. It’s something that most big companies would logically say, “Don’t lock yourself into any one provider.” However, building that level of extraction is extremely complicated and outside of the reach of the majority of people, outside of the top 100 companies on the planet. It’s very hard and can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, our basic premise is that as long as that provider is using our ESX hyper visor, they can go to any one of the three and a half thousand service providers around the world that are using the same software. If you’ve got what we have, which is this layer of technology that provides the perfect level of extraction, you can switch from one provider to another. That’s the magic of the hyper visor. It’s just unique in that the apps above it and the hardware below are extracted. That’s the key to what we’ve got. In terms of core differentiation, that’s it. It’s dandy and it’s got legs. There’s stuff in the networking realm that really helps us as well. The rest of it’s just how can you do that as low cost and as efficiently as possible.

Where are businesses going in the context of the cloud? Is there a common trend or theme that you can talk about?

What we’ve seen is a very high volume of clients experimenting with the use of the public cloud for a number of point solutions or specific unique use cases. What they’ve found is that the point benefits that you can get from using it for these things like test and development or specific workload like a web app, are profound but isolated to the workload they’ve moved.

As they try and adopt the public cloud more comprehensively within the organization, perhaps starting to experiment with multiple public clouds, the benefits start to just ebb away because the complexity associated with trying to use multiple public clouds outweighs the benefits. It’s just multiple management tools, multiple networking configurations. You suddenly end up with three times more staff because you need people to understand Amazon Stack, who understand Open Stack, understand Azure and VMware.

What does the evolution of the cloud look like? Does everyone on a hybrid cloud move to private eventually because of security and control? Or do they stick with hybrid?

There’s so much money invested in the install position of clients’ data centers that it’ll be 10, 15 years before that wind down has occurred.  New companies that are starting out do not have the same legacy issues. I used to say that in Asia, you tend to see clients who are more aggressive and go straight to public. Even now, as those businesses are maturing, they’re also having an on-premises component as well. The economics are better if you have the best of both worlds.

What is VMware’s goal with the cloud? Do you want to steer clients to private?

The whole private cloud verses public cloud is dead. It’s hybrid. What they want is the combination of the two. We keep positioning these two things as different or one of them as a feature of the other. That ship has sailed. Gone. It’s now about how you position yourself as the combination of the two so they get the best of both worlds. The more we focus on how we’re making those two things work together and how we’re presenting that as a single pooled resource, the sooner we’ll take the companies to the next level.

Obviously our gold nugget is the beauty of vSphere – when we run a hybrid cloud, it’s better than any one else’s because no one else has got that hyper visor that gives that level of extraction.

Do companies need to re-jigger their IT staff to think in these new ways and have these new skills?

For this decade, you’re going to need to take your best people out of some of the other functions and put them in IT. Coke put their Chief Marketing Officer in. Pepsi put their Chief Administration Officer in. From Microsoft we have Tony Scott and we’re lucky to have him as our CIO. He was previously running a business within Microsoft and then they made him CIO. That’s what you got to do. You’ve got to up your game through layers.

If I’m in a start up and I start off with a public cloud, why would I build a hybrid cloud in the future and not just stay on the public services?

We see most companies start public and then transition to hybrid. A very high profile example of that would be Netflix, which started out on Amazon and then quickly found that mainly for economic reasons they were better off running private cloud for some of their workload.

Another concern that develops is security. They find that they actually can’t get Amazon or anyone else to sign up to the liability that they need to get comfortable from a security/risk perspective. Then the third is sort of emotional but very tangible. It’s trusting your mission critical infrastructure with a third party. That requires a fairly high level of trust and intimacy with that third party entity.


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