I think that it is pretty clear what VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) is and what it does. And it is also clear to a lot of people how where you could use VCF. But very few organizations and customers know why they should or could use Cloud Foundation and what its purpose is. This article will give you a better understanding about the “hidden” value that VMware Cloud Foundation has to offer.
My last contributions focused on VMware’s multi-cloud strategy and how they provide consistency in any layer of their vision:
- Consistent employee experience for the digital workspace with Workspace ONE
- Consistent automation and operations with the vRealize Suite and VMware Cloud Services
- Consistent developer experience with the Tanzu Kubernetes Grid over any cloud
- Consistent security with the intrinsic security vision
- Consistent infrastructure for VMs and containers with VMware Cloud Foundation (unified platform for both workloads)
The VMware messaging is clear. By deploying consistent infrastructure across clouds, customers gain consistent operations and intrinsic security in hybrid or multi-cloud operating models. The net result is, that the intricacies of infrastructure fade, allowing IT to focus more on deploying applications and providing secure access to those applications and data from any device.
The question is now, what are the building blocks and how can you fulfill this strategy? And why is VMware Cloud Foundation really so important?
To answer these questions we have to start with the basics and look at the NIST definition of cloud computing first:
Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared
pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and
services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or
service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five
essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.
Let’s start with the three service models and the capabilities each is aiming to provide:
- Software as a Service (SaaS). Centrally hosted software, which is licensed on a subscription basis. They are also known as web-based or hosted software. The consumer of this service does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure (servers, network, storage, operating system)
- Platform as a Service (PaaS). This application platform allows the consumer to build, run and manage applications without the complex building of the application infrastructure to launch the applications. Like with SaaS, the consumer doesn’t manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure, but has the control over the deployed applications.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). IaaS provides the customer fundamental resources like compute, storage and network where they are able to deploy and run software in virtual machines or containers. The consumer doesn’t manage the underlying infrastructure, but manages the virtual machines including the operating systems and applications.
There are four cloud computing deployment models defined today and mostly we talk only about three (I excluded the community cloud) of them. Let’s consult the VMware glossary for each definition.
- Private Cloud. Private cloud is an on-demand cloud deployment model where cloud computing services and infrastructure are hosted privately, often within a company’s own data center using proprietary resources and are not shared with other organizations. The company usually oversees the management, maintenance, and operation of the private cloud. A private cloud offers an enterprise more control and better security than a public cloud, but managing it requires a higher level of IT expertise.
- Public Cloud. Public cloud is an IT model where on-demand computing services and infrastructure are managed by a third-party provider and shared with multiple organizations using the public Internet. Public cloud service providers may offer cloud-based services such as infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, or software as a service to users for either a monthly or pay-per-use fee, eliminating the need for users to host these services on site in their own data center.
- Hybrid Cloud. Hybrid cloud describes the use of both private cloud and public cloud platforms, which can work together on-premises and off-site to provide a flexible mix of cloud computing services. Integrating both platforms can be challenging, but ideally, an effective hybrid cloud extends consistent infrastructure and consistent operations to utilize a single operating model that can manage multiple application types deployed in multiple environments.
Multi-Cloud is a term for the use of more than one public cloud service provider for virtual data storage or computing power resources, with or without any existing private cloud and on-premises infrastructure. A multi-cloud strategy not only provides more flexibility for which cloud services an enterprise chooses to use, it also reduces dependence on just one cloud vendor. Multi-Cloud service providers may host three main types of services IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.
With IaaS, the cloud provider hosts servers, storage and networking hardware with accompanying services, including backup, security and load balancing. PaaS adds operating systems and middleware to their IaaS offering, and SaaS includes applications so that nothing is hosted on a customer’s site. Cloud providers may also offer these services independently.
Note: It is very important to understand which cloud computing deployment is the right one for your organization and which services your IT needs to offer to your internal or external customers.
If you look at the five essential cloud computing characteristics from the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), you’ll find attributes which you would also consider as natural requirements for any public cloud (e.g. Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services):
- On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities,
such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without
requiring human interaction with each service’s provider.
- Broad Network Access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through
standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client
platforms (e.g. PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets).
- Resource Pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple
consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual
resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.
There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no
control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be
able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or
- Scalability and Elasticity. Capabilities can be rapidly and elastically provisioned, in some cases
automatically, to quickly scale out and rapidly released to quickly scale in. To the
consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited
and can be purchased in any quantity at any time.
- Measure Service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by
leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the
type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts).
Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported providing
transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.
And besides the five essentials, you look for security, flexibility and reliability. With all these properties in mind, you would follow the same approach today, if you build a new data center or have to modernize your current cloud infrastructure. A digital foundation, or a platform, which can adopt to any changes and serve as expected.
This is why VMware has built VMware Cloud Foundation! This is why we need VCF, which is the core of VMware’s multi-cloud strategy.
To be able to meet the above characteristics/criteria, you need a set of software-defined components for compute, storage, networking, security and cloud management in private and public environments – also called the software-defined data center (SDDC). VCF makes operating the data center fundamentally simpler by bringing the ease and automation of the public cloud in-house by deploying a standardized and validated architecture with built in lifecycle management and automation capabilities for the entire cloud stack.
As automation is already integrated and part from the beginning, and not something you would integrate later, you are going to be able to adopt to changes and have already one of the elements in place to achieve the needed security requirements. Automation is key to provide security through the whole stack.
In short, Cloud Foundation gives you the possibility and the right tools to build your private cloud based on public cloud characteristics and also an easy path towards a hybrid cloud architecture. Consider VCF as VMware’s cloud operating system, which enables a hybrid cloud based on a common and compatible platform that stretches from on-premises to any public cloud. Or from public cloud to another public cloud.
Note: VMware Cloud Foundation can also be consumed as a service (aka SDDC as a service) through their partners like Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and many more.
Why Hybrid or Multi-Cloud?
A hybrid cloud with a consistent infrastructure approach enables organizations to use the same tools, policies and teams to manage the cloud infrastructure, which hosts the virtual machines and containers.
Companies want to have the flexibility to deploy and manage new and old applications in the right cloud. They are looking for an architecture, which allows them to migrate on-premises workloads to the public cloud and modernize these applications (partially or completely) with the cloud provider’s native services.
Customers have changed their perception from cloud-first to a cloud-appropriate strategy where they choose the right cloud for each specific application. And to avoid a vendor lock-in, you suddenly see two or three additional public clouds joining the cloud architecture, which by definition now is a multi-cloud environment.
Now you have a mix of a VMware-based cloud with AWS, Azure and GCP for example. It is possible to build new applications in one of the VMware “SDDC as a service” (e.g. VMware Cloud on AWS, Azure VMware Solution, Google Cloud VMware Engine) offerings, but customers also want deploy and use cloud-native service offerings.
How you deal with this challenge with the different architectures, operational inconsistencies, varying skill sets or your people, different management and security controls and incompatible technology formats?
Well, the first answer could be, that your IT needs to be able to treat all clouds and applications consistently and run the VCF stack ideally in any (private or public) cloud.
But this is not where I want to head to. There is something else, which we need to transform in this multi-cloud environment.
We only have consistent infrastructure with consistent operations, because of VMware Cloud Foundation, so far.
- How does your deployment and automation model for your virtual machines and containers look like now?
- How would you automate the provisioning these workloads and needed application components?
With your current tool set you have to talk four “languages” via the graphical management console or API (application programming interface).
In an international organization, where people come from different countries and talk different languages, we usually agree to English as corporate language. VMware is following the same approach in this case and puts an abstraction layer above the clouds and expose the APIs.
This helps to manage the different objects and workloads you have deployed in any cloud. You don’t have to use your cloud accounts anymore and can define a consistent and centralized team and permission structure as well.
On top of this cloud-agnostic API you can provide all means for a self-service catalog, use programmable provisioning and provide the operations (e.g. cost or log management) and visibility (powered by artificial intelligence where needed) tool set (e.g. application and networks) to build, run, manage, connect and protect your applications.
Your applications, which are part of the different main services (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) and most probably many other services (like DaaS, DBaaS, FaaS, DRaaS, CaaS, Backup as a Services, MongoDB as Service etc.) you are going to offer to your internal consumers or customers, are deployed via this cloud abstraction layer.
This abstraction layer forms the VMware cloud management platform (CMP), which consists of the vRealize Suite and VMware Cloud Services. This CMP also provides you with the necessary interfaces and integration options to other existing backend services or tools like a ticketing system, change management database (CMDB), IP address management (IPAM) and so on.
In short this means, that the VMware cloud operation model treats each private or public cloud as a landing zone.
VMware Cloud Foundation Is More About Business Value
Yes, Cloud Foundation is a very technical topic and most people see it only like that. But the hidden and real value are the ones nobody sees or talk about. The business values and the fact, that you can operate your private cloud with the ease like a public cloud provider and that you can follow the same principles for any cloud delivery model.
On-Demand self-service is offered through the lifecycle management capabilities VCF has included in combination with the cloud-agnostic API from VMware’s cloud management platform.
Broad network access starts with VMware’s digital workspace offerings and ends in the data center, at the edge or any cloud with their cloud-scale networking portfolio, which includes software-defined networking (SDN), software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and software-defined application delivery controller (SD-ADC).
Multi-tenancy and resource pooling can only be achieved with automation and security. Two items which are naturally integrated into Cloud Foundation. The SDDC management component of VCF also gives you the technical capability to create your regions and availability zones. Something a public cloud providers let’s you choose as well.
Rapid elasticity is provided with the hardware-agnostic (for the physical servers in your data centers) approach VMware offers to their customers. Besides that, all cloud computing components are software-defined, which can run on-premises, at the edge or in any public cloud, which allows you to quickly scale out and scale in according to your needs.
Service usage and resource usage (compute, storage, network) are automatically controlled and optimized by leveraging some level of abstraction of all different clouds. Resource usage can be monitored and reported in a transparent way for the service provider and the consumer.
In addition to that, VMware provides their customers the choice to consume the VMware operation tools on-premises or as a SaaS offering, which is then hosted in the cloud. With perpetual and subscription licenses you can define your own pay-per-use or pay-as-you-go pricing options and if you want to move from a CAPEX to a OPEX cost model. The same will be true somewhen for VCF and VCF in the public cloud as well. A single universal license which allows you to run the different components and tools everywhere.
Customers need the flexibility to build the applications in any environment, matching the needs of the application and the best infrastructure. They need to manage and operate different environments as one, as efficiently as possible, with common models of security and governance.
Customers need to shift workloads seamlessly between cloud providers (also known as cross-cloud workload mobility) without the cost, complexity or risk of rewriting applications, rebuilding process or retraining IT resources.
And that’s my simple explanation of VMware Cloud Foundation and why it so important and the core of the VMware (Multi-Cloud) strategy.
Let me know what you think! 🙂
Update January 2022: If you would like to get a basic technical understand of VMware Cloud Foundation, have a look at VMware Cloud Foundation – A Technical Overview