Despite the proliferation of public cloud services, many organizations are opting to keep their workloads in their own data centers -- sometimes, implementing private or hybrid clouds to take advantage of the service-based delivery model. In response, several vendors are now offering -- or will soon be offering -- on-premises products that extend their public cloud platforms to the data center. Two good examples of this trend are VMware Cloud on Dell EMC and AWS Outposts, both of which provide rack-based products that include the hardware and software needed to deliver a cloud IaaS.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC combines VMware's software-defined data center (SDDC) platform with Dell EMC's VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) to provide an offering that's installed on premises and consumed as a cloud service. VMware deploys, manages and maintains the operating platform, offering IT organizations the convenience of the cloud with the security and control of an on-premises product.
VMware and Dell EMC offer the infrastructure as a fully managed data center as a service that brings the cloud operating model to IT administrators' data centers and edge locations. Sites pay a monthly subscription fee to use the system, just like a cloud platform. All compute, storage, networking and management capabilities are offered as services, providing a flexible environment with capabilities comparable to VMware Cloud on AWS.
Because the platform adheres to a cloud-delivery model, admins can carry out most operations -- including the ability to request new hardware -- via APIs or a UI. The platform also provides features such as self-service provisioning, support for containers and Kubernetes, and bidirectional connectivity to public cloud services through the VMware hybrid cloud control plane.
The VxRail HCI appliance includes a half-rack or full-rack system composed of three or more VxRail servers, with support for up to 24 nodes. Powered by VMware Cloud Foundation, the appliance runs the VMware SDDC platform, which includes VMware vSphere, VMware vSAN and VMware NSX -- virtualization technologies that deliver compute, storage and network resources, respectively.
Getting started with VMware Cloud on Dell EMC is as straightforward as signing up for a public cloud service: Log in to the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC service portal, select a configuration and confirm a delivery date. On that date, Dell EMC will deliver the appliance to the specified location. An on-site technician will then install and test the equipment and activate the service.
VMware continually monitors the infrastructure, automatically updates and patches the system, and addresses any issues that might arise. If an issue can't be resolved remotely, a Dell EMC technician comes to the physical location. VMware fully manages and supports the infrastructure from end to end, freeing up admins to focus on workload deployments.
With VMware Cloud on Dell EMC, IT doesn't have to worry about planning, deploying or managing the infrastructure, helping to simplify and streamline operations and free up personnel for other tasks. The system also enables organizations to move from a Capex to an Opex accounting structure, lowering initial capital outlay. In addition, the cloud services model provides greater agility and easier resource allocation, while helping to meet security and compliance requirements by keeping data on-site. Plus, the platform supports such features as self-service provisioning and resource elasticity for further streamlining operations.
Despite these benefits, the platform's similarity to a public cloud service also makes it susceptible to many of the same drawbacks. For example, moving to an Opex structure can be beneficial in some cases but not all. Service fees can add up quickly, resulting in a higher total cost of ownership (TCO).
Organizations are also locked into VMware's SDDC platform and Dell EMC's hardware, leading to an even greater potential for vendor lock-in than with a cloud service or HCI appliance alone. In addition, admins don't have the same level of control over their systems as they would with infrastructures they implement themselves. And some companies might not be comfortable with VMware needing constant access to their on-premises systems.
AWS Outposts is a fully managed service that delivers a native AWS infrastructure and operating model to on-premises locations, similar to VMware Cloud on Dell EMC. The service extends AWS cloud capabilities to on-site locations, making it possible to use the same APIs and tools across both on-premises and AWS cloud resources. AWS Outposts builds on the AWS Nitro System technologies, enabling sites to launch many of the same Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances and Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes they can in the cloud.
Amazon manages, maintains and supports the entire AWS Outposts system -- both hardware and software. Organizations can use tools such as AWS CloudFormation, AWS CloudTrail or Amazon CloudWatch to run and manage Outposts workloads. They can also launch a number of Amazon services from the Outposts environment, including Elastic Container Service, Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes, Elastic MapReduce and Relational Database Service.
In addition, companies can use AWS deployment tools to manage applications across multiple Outposts installations. They can also use PrivateLink gateway endpoints to establish private connections between virtual private cloud resources and regional AWS services.
AWS Outposts is slated for general availability by the end of 2019 and will come with a fully integrated rack system -- quarter, half or full -- that's prevalidated and tested to ensure admins can get started quickly and easily. The system will run EC2 instances, such as M5, C5, R5 I3en and G4, and will support different types of instances on the same rack. The infrastructure will also support EBS General Purpose SSD volumes for persistent local block storage.
Amazon will offer AWS Outposts in two variants: AWS Outpost Native and VMware Cloud on AWS. AWS Outpost Native acts an extension of an AWS region into the EC2 environment, making it possible to use the same APIs and control plane available to AWS. The VMware Cloud option works similar to the Native option, except that it implements the VMware SDDC platform, enabling admins to manage their Outposts environment along with other VMware services available through AWS.
Getting started with AWS Outposts will be much the same as with VMware Cloud on Dell EMC. Admins will log on to AWS Management Console and place their order, choosing the EC2 instance types and EBS storage options that best suit their workloads. Amazon will then ship the system to the specified location, where AWS-certified technicians will connect it to the power and network. Once the system is connected, admins will be able to view their Outposts installation in Management Console.
AWS will monitor the Outposts environment as part of the public region. In addition, AWS will automatically install upgrades and patches and address any issues that arise. If issues must be physically addressed on-site, AWS technicians will come to the admin's location.
AWS Outposts offers many of the same benefits as VMware Cloud on Dell EMC. For example, sites that are already using AWS services can incorporate Outposts into their current operations to extend the cloud to their data center. This helps keep sensitive data on premises, while still getting the benefits that come from cloud services, including flexibility, quick deployments and lower maintenance overhead. Keeping workloads on premises can also benefit latency-sensitive workloads that require local resources.
However, AWS Outposts also comes with many of the same limitations as VMware Cloud on Dell EMC, such as less control, potential for higher TCO and being locked in to a single platform that dictates both the hardware and infrastructure software. AWS Outposts also requires continuous communication with a parent AWS region. The product isn't generally available yet, so there are still many unknowns about pricing and exactly which AWS cloud services will be available to the on-site platform.
Bringing the cloud to the data center
As with any technology, VMware Cloud on Dell EMC and AWS Outposts come with limitations. But, for organizations that can work with these limitations, the new platforms could offer important benefits. But admins must first assess whether either product will fit their workload requirements, taking into account contributing factors, such as TCO and available on-site resources.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC has an edge over AWS Outposts because it has already been released. But, until both systems are available and have a proven track record, comparing these hybrid cloud technologies or choosing between them will be a difficult process, unless the organization is already committed to one of the vendor's cloud ecosystems and wants to extend that. Organizations considering both VMware Cloud on Dell EMC and the VMware variant of AWS Outposts will need to know a lot more about both products before making any decisions.