In the multi-cloud space, we are trying to create an architecture that will allow for integration, interoperability and modularity between multiple-cloud services: Kit Colbert, CTO, VMware

As the world of cloud computing continues to rapidly evolve, businesses are constantly seeking new solutions that can help them keep up with the ever-changing landscape. One approach that has gained significant traction in recent years is multi-cloud, which involves using multiple cloud providers for multiple reasons related to resilience, costs, domain or compliance.

To shed more light on this topic, we are honored to interview Kit Colbert, CTO, VMware. With his wealth of knowledge and experience, we are excited to hear his insights on the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the multi-cloud ecosystem

Some edited excerpts:

We are clearly in an era of multi-cloud. What are some of the key challenges that you foresee in the multi-cloud era?
In the journey, we see many customers in the multi-cloud space. There are three key stages of that journey. Firstly, the cloud-first stage. This is where a business decides, it’s going to go into the cloud. Typically, they choose a single cloud provider to be their strategic partner. And they move to put apps in the cloud. And they implement a whole bunch of solutions for that cloud, they figure out, how do I secure my applications? How do I monitor performance? How do I backup data? How do I manage costs, etc.? And then to do that, they implement the native tools for that cloud. So it’s all very specific to that one cloud instance. But then what happens is that eventually the company decides or may not decide that they start using a second cloud. And that can happen because that company makes an acquisition, that’s taken a strategic dependency on a different cloud, it can be a line of business that decides they want to go use a different cloud. Or maybe as time moves on, and the technologies evolve, they find a different cloud which now has better technology than the one they’re standardized on.

So irrespective of the reason, we see pretty much all of our customers are running at least two clouds. And so the second cloud, they again, go and solve a lot of the problems that they need to solve things around security, monitoring, backup, DR, etc. But they do so again, in a way that’s specific to that second cloud. And sometimes it’s the third cloud that comes into the mix. But the point is that now they’re in a situation where they got multiple clouds, individual implementations specific to each cloud. They also have an on-premise data center, or many on-premise data centers, and sometimes edge data centers as well.

So they end up in the second state or second phase, which we call Cloud Chaos. And so they are multi-cloud, but they’re in a very key out of state where there’s a lack of consistency. There’s increased risk and costs, to manage all this. So the third phase is where we want to help get customers to. And we call that Cloud smart. And essentially, the way to go from the second phase, the third phase, from Cloud Chaos to Cloud Smart, is to adopt what we call cross-cloud services, or multi-cloud services.

If I am a multi-cloud customer, say, in the second phase, what are the key initiatives that I should take to get into a state where it’s not Cloud Chaos, but the cloud is more manageable, and within my control from a cost, governance and security perspective?
So the interesting thing here is that there is not really a ‘one size fits all’ approach here. So what we typically do is we sit down with a customer and say – what are your priorities? Because the reality is, you’re going to be kind of in this Cloud Chaos phase, across many different areas. And so it’s usually not feasible to try and change all those areas all at once. And so we prioritize. So, for instance, I might sit down with a customer who says that his main concern is security. So there are a couple of aspects to that. There are things like the Secure Software supply chain, having a consistent CI/CD pipeline with all the security capabilities built in. And replacing a lot of the individual pipelines you may have built in each cloud. So that would be one thing they could do. And maybe another part of that is getting a consistent, security management tool to look at incidents and response consistently across clouds.

So, for some customers, security could be number one priority. For another customer, moving a lot of workloads out the on-premises environment to the cloud could be the number one priority. In this case, the need is of a consistent infrastructure service. The key to success is to implement cross-cloud services, and get rid of individual cloud services that you built previously.

From the areas you mentioned, which do you think is the main topmost priority?
That’s a really tough one. And it really varies. There are five areas that we focus on as VMware:

• Our number one is the application platform, that’s really around providing a modern platform for app monetization. This includes Kubernetes, containers, microservices, etc.
• The second area we focus on is cloud management. So that goes into cost management, automation, governance and self-service.
• The number three is infrastructure. So that’s providing consistent compute storage and network and infrastructure management across all locations
• The number four is security and networks. So again, security as security incident response, and secure data networking such as firewalls, connectivity, etc.
• The fifth one would be end user computing. And end user computing, of course, focuses on virtual desktops, mobile device management, things in this area

Now, if you look across all these areas, I would say security is huge, but I would say infrastructure is also high up there, and from what we see, we see a lot of need for consistent infrastructure across clouds. But again, it really is highly dependent on the individual customer and what are the key business priorities.

A few decades back, VMware rode on the virtualization wave. Do you see a similar huge opportunity in the multi-cloud space?
I definitely think there are some similarities and parallels there. With virtualization, we provide this abstraction layer, which meant that we kind of separate the application from the underlying hardware to some degree and allowed customers the hardware of their choice. I think we’re conceptually going in that same direction. What we’re doing here is we are trying to create some consistency across clouds. But I would say it’s a little bit different. Because we’re not trying to completely abstract the clouds. As I said, it’s not about turning clouds into just the lowest common denominator, basic infrastructure services, we want exposed through the cloud differentiation, what we’re really trying to do is support better customer choice, in terms of which clouds they go to, or on-premises or edge. The reality is that today in the Cloud Chaos environment, often businesses are limited in that choice of like where they put an app, because they have got to select one cloud. And that app plugs into that cloud’s implementation or architecture, and now they can’t move it somewhere else. In the Cloud Smart approach, you get more flexibility in terms of where you want to put the app and allow the choice of where to put the app and based on that app’s unique characteristics and requirements. So again, I think what we’re doing is somewhat similar to what we do with virtualization, but it’s also a little bit different.

So what we’re trying to do is with multi-cloud, we are trying to create essentially a multi-cloud architecture. And I think that in the industry right now this multi-cloud architecture is not well defined. It’s not well understood. And this is something that, by the way, it’s not just us at VMware that we’re doing, we talked to many other vendors, who are doing similar things.

And so I think what you’re going to see is many different players in the industry, moving in this direction, because it’s fundamentally what customers want is what they’re asking for. So what we’re trying to do, as VMware is trying to create a framework or an architecture that will allow for integration and interoperability, as well as modularity between all these different multi-cloud offerings. And so there’s a vision that we’re going after here. And so when you talk about the industry or the market opportunity, I think it is absolutely massive, because what we’re talking about is essentially the next generation of cloud, right? The first generation of cloud is the public clouds, and sort of vertical integration, from top to bottom, from the data center up to their infrastructure, to their, you know, higher level services, are talking about here, when we talk about multi-cloud is really a more horizontal orientation, where we’re providing sets of capabilities that move across clouds, and to some degree enable you to run essentially, anywhere you want to public cloud on-premises, and you know, wherever. So I think this is a massive industry shift that we’re looking at here, one that will unfold over, quite frankly, the next decade.

Kit ColbertMulti CloudVMware CTO
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