Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, VMware without question remains the enterprise virtualization leader. Microsoft has tried unseating it by integrating its own hypervisor, Hyper-V, into both Windows Server and Windows Desktop to entice customers with a "comes in the box" approach. It’s launched products to simplify backing up VMware virtual machines to Azure (Azure Site Recovery) and even to migrate the rival’s VM to Hyper-V. What it hasn’t had is a fully supported way to natively run a VMware workload in Azure.
Now it does. Two weeks ago at Dell Technologies World, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella appeared on stage alongside Dell CEO Michael Dell (Dell Technologies owns most of VMware) and VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger to announce a new Azure hybrid cloud solution for running VMware workloads on Microsoft’s public cloud.
If you've been asleep for the last few years, you wouldn't recognize today's Microsoft. New attitudes toward competitors and wide acceptance of open source are just the tip of the iceberg. While the old Microsoft focused on the desktop, the new Microsoft is all in with the cloud. Meeting modern customer demands means new thinking on products, including products by rivals like VMware.
Microsoft actually announced a way for customers to move their VMware workloads to the Azure cloud some time ago. The difference was VMware did not support it (and criticized Microsoft’s move). If a customer had a problem running VMware on Azure, they couldn't call VMware for help, and Microsoft provided only minimal support on the Azure platform. That meant most customers would not be willing to run such workloads in production.
Another alternative has been to migrate those workloads to Azure. This option often requires some additional tweaks – it’s not exactly click-of-a-button. That said, Microsoft does provide a viable disaster recovery solution which works for both VMware and Hyper-V virtual machines.
Azure VMware Solution by CloudSimple
The new star of the Azure VMware show is a company called CloudSimple. The company was co-founded in 2016 by Guru Pangal, who also co-founded StorSimple, which developed one of the earliest hybrid cloud storage systems. Microsoft acquired StorSimple in 2012 and has since integrated it into its line of hardware products.
CloudSimple provides all the plumbing required to run your VMware workloads on Azure. The big selling point is the compatibility with existing VMware tools, including vCenter. Full support for vSphere, vSAN, and NSX-T is included.
This offering aims to compete with the recent VMware Cloud on AWS service, operated by VMware and running on bare-metal servers inside AWS data centers. VMware even offers a price comparison tool, so you can compare the two options. If you plug numbers into the tool, you'll see that the AWS cloud option is typically cheaper by twenty percent or more, and the on-premises option using Microsoft Azure Stack is significantly higher. That's really not a good comparison, as the whole point is to get your on-premises VMware connected to the cloud.
Over the long term, it makes more sense to rearchitect applications to take advantage of modern design principles and new distributed tools like Kubernetes and containers. This won't happen overnight but should be on the road map for any company looking to keep their IT systems relevant. Moving select applications to this new architecture will not only offer cost reductions for operations but also licensing for VMware.
That transition will take time, and both Microsoft and VMware realize you'll need a way to keep things working in the meantime. Google thinks this path makes sense as well, based on its recent Anthos hybrid cloud announcement. Investing in this type of transformation is a lot like our country's road infrastructure. If you don't get started now, it's going to be much more painful in the future.