An introduction to VMware Cloud on AWS

In a joint press conference VMware and Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced at October 13 a new partnering. AWS will host VMware SDDC in their datacenters. The SDDC has vSphere, VSAN and NSX and is sold, managed and billed by VMware. Resources can be consumed by the hour, or per 1 or 3 year.

In this blogpost I will provide a short summary of the capabilities of Cloud on AWS and I will provide my thoughts.

The recording of the press conference can be seen here.

At VMworld Barcelona a couple of breakout sessions provided more details.

The recording of INF7849R – VMware Cloud on AWS – A Closer Look by Alex Jauch (Product manager Cloud on AWS) and Frank Denneman can be watched here. 

Cloud on AWS as a project started somewhere around august 2015. The code name was Skyscraper. Hardly anybody in VMware knew about this secret project.


VMware will sell and manage vSphere, NSX and VSAN which is installed as a SDDC stack on Intel x86 bare metal servers in AWS datacenters. This enables customers a common infrastructure both on-prem and in public cloud. Migrations, cloud bursting are made much more easy with the new service.

For AWS, upsell is all that matters. Cloud on AWS is the drug that lures VMware enterprise customers to the native AWS services.

The clear advantage is that this new service allows customers to run virtual machines in public cloud without any modification and using the same tools as used on-premises. So VM’s and resources like storage can be managed from a single vCenter Server console.

Overview of characteristics

  • this is not a IaaS server. Customers pay for hosts, not for VM’s
  • a VMware vSphere cluster in AWS cloud can be installed via a self service portal in a short time. Denneman did not specify minutes or hours.
  • vCenter Server is control plane. vCloud Director is not used.
  • the service portal is built in HTML5 and supports mobile devices. Authentication via my.VMware credentials.
  • Besides for  provisioning, the portal is also used for billing. It has a REST API.
  • the customer can choose from three sizes of clusters: small (4 hosts), medium (32 hosts) and large (64 hosts)
  • a new feature unique for AWS is ‘Elastic DRS’. Elastic DRS automatically adds ESXi hosts to the cluster when the cluster has insufficiënt resources, when a hosts fails or is placed in maintenance mode
  • the offering is a private cloud. So ESXi hosts in AWS are used by a single tenant
  • ESXi is installed on bare metal servers. Probably both Intel and AMD. There is no nested virtualization
  • VSAN will be offered on Flash (in the hosts)  and Amazon Elastic Block Storage (EBS)
  • Cloud on AWS can be paid per hour, per one year of three years
  • payment via creditcard or VMware account
  • service is delivered, operated, sold and supported by VMware
  • All API’s which work on-prem work in cloud as well
  • VIB’s cannot be loaded on ESXi hosts
  • customers are not root adminstrator of ESXi
  • So VMware does patching of vCenter, ESXi hosts, NSX manager and VSAN clusters.
  • VMware Cloud on AWS is available in beta starting begin 2017
  • so at the moment the service is not available for consumption
  • VMware Cloud on AWS will be generally available Mid 2017

Servers used

Some information on the bare metal servers. As vMotion from on-premises to AWS will be possible, AWS should support both AMD and Intel CPU’s. I asked Alex Jauch of VMware for details:

We will offer various flavors of instances so CPU will vary. Customer will choose what flavor. HW and AWS back end details will be announced by AWS. Please stay tuned or talk to us at re:Invent for more detail on that side


At the moment (October 2016) no details about costs have been made public. Details are expected closer to to the general availability date.

VMware bills you for all  features including compute, network and storage. Other AWS services (S3, RDS, etc.) billed direct by AWS

What is the benefit for customers?

Benefits are:

  • choice. Customers can choose from a lot of providers offering VMware based platforms, now including AWS
  • worldwide coverage. AWS has many datacenters worldwide
  • common infrastructure. On-prem and Cloud on AWS share the same VMware components. No learning curve, no new tools
  • migrations, cloud bursting, scaleability made very easy as virtual machines do not need to be modified
  • low latency connections to AWS services. Many of the VMware customers are AWS customers as well. There was a hugh demand from customers for a service like Cloud on AWS.


Migration of legacy applications in a lift and shift manner to a hyperscale public cloud platform is a hell of a job without a common infrastructe! There are a couple of issues:

  1. AWS EC2 nor Azure Virtual Machines nor Google Compute Engine support the VMware ESXi virtual machines. Customers need to modify the virtual machine as all hyper scale providers use a hypervisor different to ESXi. Customer cannot just vMotion to hyper scale publc clouds.
  2. Networking. Building a virtual network in your IaaS tenant environment is a long, complex job.
  3. New toolsets. When VM’s are moved to public cloud, customers need to use news tooling for management, monitoring, networking, disaster recovery etc etc

By using VMware Cloud on AWS customers have vSphere/NSX and VSAN on cloud. Same hypervisor, same features like HA, vMotion, DRS etc. Virtual machines can be vMotioned from on-premises without any modifications while the application remains available. Virtual machines can also vMotion-ed between AWS regions.

Also Cloud on AWS has low latency connections to AWS cloud services.

Three possible scenario’s are shown in the slide below


What is benefit for VMware?

The benefit for VMware in this partnering is the additional revenue for consumption of licenses. The deal between AWS and VMware is unknown but VMware for sure will get extra income. It might also prevent some customers from moving away to alternative solutions for the on-prem  infrastructure.

What is the benefit for AWS?

VMware Cloud on AWS offers for AWS a stepping stone for enterprise customers to their native cloud offerings (upselling). Customers will bring in their legacy applications on Cloud on AWS.Because the service is managed by VMware,  customer resources become available to assist in re-architecting applications which likely will run on AWS services.

What will be the challenges ?

One of the challenges will be pricing. If costs for Cloud on AWS are too high, customers might decide to keep their applications  on-prem. Cloud on AWS should really lure customers to make the step into cloud with minimal effort.

The challenge for VMware will be selling this new service. The story is pretty easy: vSphere in public cloud, no conversion. However that story was told about VMware vCloud Air as well. vCloud Air failed! The Japan datacenter will be closed. So for some reason vCloud Air was either too early or customers did not understand the proposition. Or was it too expensive?

Will it succeed this time?

The risk for AWS is that customers will slow down the transition to a true cloud model using native AWS services.


Holger Mueller, VP & Principal Analyst at Constellation Research, has an interesting post on Cloud on AWS.

The AWS press release is here.

A VMware blog on the new service is here.

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