I’ve covered VMware Cloud Foundation (or VCF for short) for some time now. My previous role was covering the product from a pre-sales perspective. VMware Cloud Foundation is a very powerful platform to enable customers to get to a hybrid cloud. Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware, has summarized the solution well. He says that “VMware Cloud Foundation is the quickest way to a hybrid cloud!” While that is a generalization and there are always details to consider, that statement is the best way to summarize this solution. While you can get to a hybrid cloud through using a mix of products, VMware Cloud Foundation includes all of the software you would need to achieve that goal. Additionally, it includes infrastructure automation and lifecycle management to speed time to value and simplify operations. What I would like to cover in this post is a summary of this solution and considerations for organizations moving forward so they can plan appropriately.
What is VMware Cloud Foundation
There are two ways to look at VMware Cloud Foundation. One way is to look at it as a vision that has a product SKU that bundles all the technologies you would need to achieve your hybrid cloud vision. The other way is through the technical solution that builds the underlying platform framework for a hybrid cloud using SDDC Manager. In my experience, I’ve seen customers adopt this solution in both ways. The considerations of what path you would choose largely depends on multiple factors. Here are a few to think of right now before we dive in. What is your current SDDC maturity? What does Hybrid Cloud mean to you? What do you want your employees to be good at? Where do you want your employees to spend their time? Depending on answers to some of these questions will determine how you use this technology to meet your initiatives. The core technologies that enable VMware Cloud Foundation span the VMware software ecosystem. vCenter, vSphere, vSAN, and NSX are some of the core components. To achieve a software define datacenter you must have solutions around flexibility and extensibility for storage, compute, and networking. VMware Cloud Foundation also includes solutions like the Horizon suite, vRealize Operations, vRealize Log Insight, and vRealize Automation.
VMware Cloud Foundation, when used in its purest form, is backed by a tool called SDDC Manager. SDDC Manager is the brains of your SDDC and automates the provisioning, deconstruction, and lifecycle of your SDDC. Within VCF there is a new construct called Workload Domains. Workload Domains are essentially boundaries for your use cases that you leverage VCF for. The concept of a Workload Domain is likely similar to what you already do in your virtual infrastructure today, but it is an essential software object within SDDC Manager. You start by building your first Workload Domain through a tool called Cloud Builder, which initiates the creation of your first 4 nodes into a management cluster and deploys the first essential components of the SDDC (vSAN, vSphere, vCenter, SDDC Manager, and NSX components.)
Now that we have gotten the basics covered. Let’s start getting into some of the considerations that become common conversations I have had with customers over my tenure. Keep in mind, these mostly come from challenges or adoptions strategies I have personally come across in my career. They may or may not apply to your specific organization. Most of these organizations come from my experience with mid-sized commercial companies, state and local organizations, healthcare, and universities.
Defining the Greenfield Requirement
One of the most common conversations is about the fact that VCF with SDDC Manager must be deployed in a greenfield environment. This may not be a surprise to people with experience with modern tools that include lifecycle management and automation capabilities. However, sometimes this greenfield requirement gets misconstrued. Some hardware and software items must be redeployed, but there are many that don’t necessarily need to be. Most of the time VCF adoption will be complemented by some IT modernization or refresh of hardware. So in many ways, the deployment of those new systems in a new SDDC Manager workload domains is no different than when you refresh a new environment. With the exception that you may have a couple of new vCenters that are linked to the older environment. But there are still many ways to vMotion your workloads into that environment. So while “greenfield” may carry some sort of baggage for different organizations, I would say focus on what must be deployed new vs what can be ported over.
Furthermore, on this point, there are VCF components that don’t necessarily need to be deployed through SDDC Manager. For example, vSAN, vSphere, vCenter, and NSX are core requirements. But the Horizon suite or the vRealize Suite are optional. So if you have existing configurations that you want to manage in the same way, you can simply import those workloads into a workload domain (assuming that you have interoperability compliance on versions.) While I would argue that doing this will erode some of the value you get in VCF with SDDC Manager, some organizations have done their analysis that this still gets them what they need from the solution and speeds their adoption. Lastly, to emphasize my previous point in the intro. Some customers already use most of, if not all, of the components that make up VCF. Therefore they purchase the VCF bundle to clean up their licensing structure or for the financial bundling advantages you get. Overall, the cost of the SDDC Manager software per socket is minimal in the overall cost.
Networking and Port Requirements
Often VCF can be seen as a completely new product with different requirements than VMware tools we use today. In reality, many of these tools you already have implemented or were planning to adopt. VCF with SDDC Manager drives faster adoption and time to value. The only new tool that you would be interfacing with is SDDC Manager. Previously, I was engaged in customer environments where they felt like they needed to completely redo networking and port requirements from previous VMware clusters. The reality is that not much of those have changed, especially if you follow common best practices or VMware Validated Designs (link.) Most of the networking needs are already in the deployment parameter workbook that you can pull down from my.vmware.com under VMware Cloud Foundation downloads. There are even more details for other products like the Horizion and vRealize suite that can be found in the VMware Validated Designs workbook. On top of all of this, VMware recently released (or at least recently to me!) a much-needed ports and protocols tool found here. This can be utilized to work with your networking team to build the proper network plumming for your VCF deployment.
Having Structure Within a Product
Change can be uncomfortable. In IT, we often learn a certain way of doing things and resist change. VMware Cloud Foundations topology with SDDC Manager is fairly prescriptive. It may be slightly different than how you do things. Sometimes, the differences don’t make any technical difference from how you may be doing things. This is where some internal conversation is important for you and your peers is critical. Have an internal debate about the differences. Are they only operationally different and have no technical impact? What processes would have to change to support that operational change? Does the value of the solution outweigh the change you would have to go through? These seem like basic questions, but you would not believe the small things that hang up big fundamental improvements for many organizations!
Just like any other products you review for you organization. You need to map features and functionality to your business objectives. VMware Cloud Foundation has a lot of what customers are driving towards in this hybrid cloud age. Hopefully I’ve given you some high level things to think about during your VMware Cloud Foundation evaluation.