One of the highlights of TFD19 was the visit at VMware’s Palo Alto HQ to hear the latest from the Cloud Management Business Unit. The day was split in two, with the first half focused on the latest advancements of vRealize Operations Manager (a.k.a. vROps) and the last part completely dedicated to Cloud Automation Services (CAS).

Both sessions were demo-heavy and focused more around showing the real capabilities of the products rather than killing the audience with endless PowerPoint decks. John Dias and Cody De Arkland did a terrific  job in presenting their respective solution, I recommend you to visit the TechField Day website and watch the videos: seeing is believing.

Both topics were equally interesting. From my point of view and being a long time vROps user, John’s presentation was useful for taking notes of the “what’s new” features to be tested soon back at work. After an exhausting TFD week, I saved what was left of my energies to focus on CAS. Below are some of my thoughts on it.

CAS is a relatively new offering that is the sum of three components:

  • Cloud Assembly – a powerful multi-cloud blueprinting engine.
  • Service Broker – a service portal to consume resources from any of the cloud targets supported by CAS.
  • Code Stream – probably the oldest of the CAS component, a CI/CD pipeline for application and infrastructure deployment.

From a technical point of view, these three components work in synergy to abstract the infrastructure on top of which the applications will live, providing the tools to simplify service design, implementation, lifecycle and consumption.

Cloud Assembly is probably the most powerful and innovative of the three CAS elements; you can think of it as a canvas where applications can be designed in Visio style, while at the same time declarative, versioned code is generated. This code can be “generic” and therefore usable on any of the supported targets (AWS, Azure, GCP, vSphere on-prem and/or on AWS and Kubernetes are all valid endpoints) but it can become as “cloud specific” as needed, allowing to pick building blocks like “Azure Blobs” rather than a generic “object storage”, or “AWS EC2 instances” instead of VMs (and so on). Generic blueprints can – easily be customized to be deployed to specific targets using tags or being more specific in the declarative code.

It is important to highlight that, while CAS is a self-sufficient solution, it is also open, meaning that you do not have to give up your investment in and expertise with other tools like Ansible, Jenkins, Git and so on. All of these tools (and more) can be easily integrated with CAS.

The immediate benefit of this approach is to empower organizations to consume cloud services and become immediately productive without having to go through a steep learning curve for each one of the public cloud providers. So, could CAS become the Holy Grail or the “ring that rules them all” of Cloud Services? Potentially yes, but as of today I must admit that the risk is for CAS to become more like the Cloud Unicorn. To live up to its promise, it will need to be able to address (and interoperate with) as many as possible of the services offered by each provider and, most of all, it should remain in sync with the constant changes that AWS, Azure etc. make to their platforms. The potential risk would be that, if not adequately and constantly developed, CAS could become really easy to use, but only within a limited scope.

Allow me to be optimistic: CAS is young but it is a bright kid with a great future ahead. The team behind it is committing resources in an effort to make CAS one of the spearheads of the new VMware strategy. Which leads me to non-technical considerations…

Contrary to the usual VMware licensing and consumption model, CAS is a SaaS solution: there is no OVA to be deployed on vSphere, as you can only obtain it via a subscription and access it through a web portal. Indeed, being a vSphere customer is not even required.

I already hinted to the main benefit of CAS: to make the consumption of (almost) any type of Cloud Services as easy and accessible as possible. Connect the dots and you’ll realize how VMware is adapting their strategy and offering: for a while now, the market is no longer “just the Data Center” as customers have shifted their focus to Public Cloud services, very often to many different providers at the same time, turning the infamous “multi-cloud” buzzword into a common investment and operational model. VMware’s strength is to have learned from their errors (yes, I’m looking at you vCloud Air) and to have set the company on a journey to re-invent itself and stay relevant: they accepted the fact that most of their customers have shifted their spending from the on-prem, where vSphere was (and still is) the uncontested King, to the infinite offering of Public Cloud Services. VMware wants you to do your journey to any cloud with them and CAS is one essential tool in their strategy.

Let’s wait and see who will collect the bet, but I’d put some dollars on VMware.

Disclaimer: travel, hotel and meal expenses for my participation to Cloud Field Day 4 have been kindly paid for by Gestalt IT, who invited me as a delegate. I am not under any obligation by neither Gestalt IT nor any of the vendors who participated to TFD19 to write any review or recommend any of the products and solutions presented at the event. I have not received any compensation for writing the above post and its content only represent my personal opinions.

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