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We are reducing complexity of Cloud world with Cross Cloud Architecture, says Shekar Ayyar of VMware


The Cloud world is full of complexities – from public to private to hybrid, there are different shades of cloud based on where they are and how they are being managed. And, now telcos also entering into the fray to leverage it for reducing cost and improving services, there is emergence of new cloud called Telco Cloud, which many feel further increase the complexity. EC’s Mohd Ujaley spoke to VMware’s Shekar Ayyar, who heads telco vertical as Executive VP, Strategy and Corporate Development and GM, Telco NFV Group, to understand the roadmap for NFV, SDN and Cloud, and how his firm plans to reduce this growing complexity. He was of the view that Cross Cloud Architecture like the one launched by VMware is the answer as it allows connectivity among different clouds. “Whatever applications customers have – whether they are of network oriented or productive oriented or end user computing oriented, they can run on VMware’s Cross Cloud Architecture leveraging their private cloud and public cloud capacities as well as whatever the telcos are bringing under the umbrella of telco cloud,” said Ayyar.

How things are working out for VMware in relation to Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Network (SDN)?

VMware is a software company that has focused on abstracts in software. Historically, we have seen that limited to the IT Datacenter Private Cloud and we have a very big footprint there. With our announcement of partnership with Amazon and IBM, we have extended Cross Cloud Architecture into the hyper scale Public Cloud. What we are seeing now is information is almost like a third cloud domain as the telecom company’s communication service providers are starting to gear up for a virtualized architecture that is going to allow them to deploy services in a very agile way. Compare to anything that they have been historically trying to do. So, rather than having these telcos become more like an Amazon Cloud or try to go after the Private Cloud, they are gearing up to become essentially a mobile edge compute cloud and a distributed cloud architecture that I would bucket as a third cloud or ‘Telco Cloud’.

What VMware is doing is essentially creating a great footprint on the Private Cloud. We are now looking to extend this footprint to emerging Telco Cloud. In this, the big picture is software that allows for the connectivity between clouds – which is the extension of our Cross-Cloud Architecture. Whatever applications customers have – whether they are  of network oriented applications or productive oriented applications or end user computing oriented applications, they can run on Cross Cloud Architecture leveraging their private cloud capacity, public cloud capacity as well as whatever the telcos are bringing there.

Aren’t you encouraging more complexity in already fragmented Cloud?

No. It’s almost the opposite, because today for example if you have to insert machine language into an application, you would have to go in and say here is how I want this application to operate on my Private Cloud, here is a separate application that I am building on the Public Cloud because I am leveraging the capacity levels available and almost in a disconnected way, here are my end points that are connected through SIM card use on like wireless network and they are three completely separate direct networks. So, for example if you as an employee of that enterprise are communicating across these clouds, somebody would manually have to manage your policy and decide that the employee is allowed to do this here and then sort of monitor you and find out what you are doing in that network there. And monitor you yet again to find out what you are doing here, which is a horrendous task. That opens up for a ton of like security loopholes, administrative management issues, whereas now think about the following.

Coming back to your earlier question about SDN. So think about a common SDN fabric that unites your connectivity across these clouds. All I have to do is specify one policy that basically says, employee has access to this data but not this data. And, I don’t need to then find out whether you are operating new Private Cloud or you are operating in somebody’s public cloud or you are operating on somebody’s mobile network.  And today that is all kind of separate clouds and this is where VMware is starting this Cross Cloud initiative to unite these clouds. Then of course now once you have that, you can then create applications that assume the existence of this connected cloud. And that will be a much easier and nicer world in that sense.

I mean if you are a gamer and you want to build the next generation Pokemon Go, you just go build the game and you get the best possible connectivity across the clouds. You don’t have to figure out whether a certain compute task is better done in a centralized datacenter or it is done in a distributed form, etc. As an app developer, you just focus on developing the app. And then it leverages this Cross Cloud Architecture.

On telco side, we have been engaged in Friendly Virtual Machine (FVM) and SDN architecture. For telcos the immediate tactical objective is cost relief. Globally telcos are undergoing economic compression because their main services still are voice and data. They are trying hard to figure out, how to get out of that and compress the cost that they are being subjected to and the basic translation of what VMware has done in the datacenter, now starts appealing to them in their Telco Cloud. They used to have siloed equipment one per function. That was historically provided to them and today they have that as a single platform infrastructure on top of which they can drop multiple virtual network functions.

That is the beginning. Now having said that they then translate from there to saying is cost the only benefit and the short answer is no. That’s not the only benefit, perhaps the more important benefit is the agility of service deployment. If you think about today deploying a new messaging service on top of a telecom environment is almost a 5 years’ lead time. So you have to start conceptualizing the service. You have to tell your vendors supplying the equipment to accommodate their protocols for that. Then you have to put it in a network and test it out for an extended period of time. And only when that becomes ready, can you actually go to a subscriber and say you now have a texting service.

Now contrast that with what a WhatsApp is able to do. Assume the network availability and then they basically ride over the top as an OTT vendor to say look, we don’t care and I know how this network works. We are just giving you the service, on top of that. And the Telco has not been able to rise up to that challenge. So NFV gives them the same level of agility. It basically says now that you are software defining your architecture, you can construct a service.  You can test it out this morning and you can deploy it tomorrow, literally it’s a very short cycle for deployment of services. And that is starting to now appeal to them. And they are basically saying okay now that I have got the cost argument and then I have got the agility argument, let me figure out how to start virtualizing it.

But unfortunately, most of them have lot of legacy systems, so that’s part of the challenge in terms of the transition. Not only do they have legacy systems, legacy vendors of course preserve their legacy systems. So this journey is not unlike what we have seen happen in the IT Datacenter industry. We have kind of found it the concept of virtualization in 1998 and over the last whatever 25 years, we have been on that journey. We have seen that evolved from initial kind of skepticism, head scratching, value, an ROI question to now being at a point where almost no server comes out of the factory without being virtualized. There is hardly any application today that doesn’t qualify for equal or better performance in a virtualized environment. And the benefits  far out way the cost, as an example, if you have a disaster recovery system setup, you can imagine that an entire datacenter goes down. And you now have the ability to bring it back up in a completely different environment because you have set it up in a virtual format. Think about the same concept for Telco’s where you now have the entire Telco infrastructure, have the support of a Disaster Recovery or a fault tolerance mechanism that can be brought up if the architecture goes down. These are the benefits that they are yet to see, but this is going to require the transition from their existing to the new architectures.

Since we started the journey we are again in 80 plus production deployment today.  We have seen global carriers all across, we have publicly coded companies like Vodafone, Ooredoo, IIJ, etc. as customers of VMware that are deploying NFV. The benefit of this architecture is now starting, in terms of multiple operating companies globally and being able to then connect in Cross Cloud format so that not only or they able to stand up like voiceover LTE quickly in a particular geography but they are able to have more fault tolerance architecture that are agile development and deployment in a global manner for all these companies. That’s really sort of the concept of NFV and now SDN just you know almost becomes a component of NFV Architecture because SDN essentially gives you the network virtualization fabric but NFV is more holistic in that. It takes into account compute virtualization, network virtualization, storage virtualization, management and orchestration. And brings that all as a package to the telecom environment.

How many vendors have you certified for NFV?

In terms of the vendor profile, we will get you the numbers. The pipeline is constantly increasing. For example, on a monthly basis, we have more and more VNF vendors that are certified. I think right now we have probably around 80 or so VNF vendors. Increasingly, Telcos are asking their vendors, the VNF vendors to go and get certified on VMware. Initially, we did a little bit of an outreach to go, get these partner vendors to come to VMware. Today that has completely tolerable. They are actually waiting in line and the number of vendors and VNFs that we certify almost only throttled by the scale of how quickly we can do that.

What opportunity do you see for NFV in India given the fact that most of the telcos are under stress?

I agree with you but I am actually quite bullish about NFV in India for the following reasons. One is that the transformation that you are seeing is setting aside the economic disparity, it is causing in terms of Reliance Jio coming in and the way that they are consuming the market, is all based on 4G technology. NFV essentially is packed on 4G in terms of using LT based virtualization and then transitioning of course in certain geographies to 5G. Now for all these sort of dynamics that are going on in this market. The good thing that is evolving is that there is a push to 4G. I mean obviously, people have spent on spectrum. They are kind of sitting on it. They are still kind of paying for it but now is the time for them to not look in the rear view mirror. But look forward and say, okay now that this is happening. How do we in fact get more services out there? How do we find new ways of monetizing once the architecture is deployed? So, we are increasingly in conversations around NFV, around the translation of networks to basically virtual functions. The number of subscribers in India who are on VMware networks that are NFV virtualized is just expanding, so I think the economic side of it has a very different quality in India compare to the rest of the world because of the specifics of how Reliance has entered the market. On the other hand, I think the technology architecture strangely is translating very quickly to a NFV.

You mentioned about Reliance Jio, they are working closely with Cisco. With Cisco now embedding software capabilities in network with the launch of ‘Network Intuitive’ and its DNA Centre. Do you see that impacting the pie of companies like yours?

The architecture Cisco is proposing is essentially a locked in architecture from top to bottom, which basically says, look invest in Cisco hardware, invest in Cisco ACI and then you will get visibility across the board. Our whole focus is essentially a software overlay. And, so we would go in and say, it doesn’t matter what networking gear you put on into your environment. We will still go ahead and make it efficient. If you think about the NSX versus ACI debate as an example because our kind of comparable product would be NSX. NSX is not tethered to any specific hardware, whereas the value and benefit you get from an ACI architecture is effectively if you get the right nexus underline infrastructure in the Cisco architecture. So, as an example all of the intuitive side of whatever they are talking about, we have the same thing in our products. In fact, we have a acquired a company called Arkin which offers network insights. And Network Insight basically allows you to foretell what your network is going to look like. How do you actually virtualize the infrastructure on top of any hardware underlying architecture? There are players like Cisco and so on but we have seen a large number of global service providers who would come in and say, we want an architecture that is anything but Cisco. For us it almost doesn’t matter. We are not subscribing to this. We are basically saying, look if you want to make your network efficient, if you want to have software define your policies independent of your underline hardware, then here is the right solution for you to do it. And, then furthermore if you want to be future proof and protected for this kind of connected cloud world, here is how we are working with the large hyper scale cloud. Here is how our footprint in the private cloud is going to be helpful to you. And that’s  our nail of the game for us.

What can we expect next in Cross Cloud Architecture?

I think you should expect us to do a very hard push around cross cloud and candidly from a global perspective our hope would be that we expand our footprint whatever couple of the hyper scale providers to all of the hyper scale providers, so directionally those are the directions that we will be headed in. I think specific to telcos, you will see more and more success matrix in terms of transactional deal closers with the large global providers. You will see how the footprint and roadmap of our technology is evolving to get the benefit of cross cloud. As an example Open Stack is a classic case where historically VMware was considered as either CSP could deploy VMware or they could deploy Open stack. Now what has ended up is that the number of the service providers have subsequently come to VMware and said, we want our Open Stack environments to work, so help us.

So rather than going and saying, you have to make a choice between VMware and Open Stack. What we are evolving our roadmap to do is to say here is how you can deploy open stack with VMware in an operational way. For example we have a product called VMware Integrated Open Stack and that is becoming a big part of our value proposition in the CSP and Telco domain. Containers is an another example where we are evolving our architecture to show that the construct of abstraction doesn’t need to be limited to a VM. That it is actually inclusive or something like containers because the problem is that a lot of customers when they see something new, whether it is Open Stack or Containers, they almost feel like you have to go and make a leapfrog jump from where you are to where you want to be. But the real value is that if you have setup and infrastructure where you have got policies, you have got Disaster Recovery, Fault Tolerance setup for your existing architecture, you can leverage that in the context of all of these things. We recognized that Open Stack API has a lot of benefits to the customer and we are offering them the same thing in terms of a VMware technology and also recognized Containers are agile, we want to support that.

In converge infrastructure, you compete with one of your sister company Nutanix. So, how things are working out on that front?

Nutanix is a completely separate company, it is not a sister company. I think the only connection frankly was that Dell Technologies which now is essentially an owner of VMware through the Delhi EMC merger. They had a historic relationship with Nutanix, so that’s the only connection. I think what has happened is that we have far overtaken them in the market. VMware has a product called VxRail and VxRail is essentially now the main stay of our entire sort of Dell Technology Portfolio of products. And by all measures, it is the most successful hyper convergence infrastructure right now.

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