When is a VMware cloud a vCloud? Let the API wars begin

ion enterprises - Pop Quiz: If your favourite hosting provider launches a cloud service that supports VMware vSphere and is part of the VMware vCloud initiative, are they providing you with the rich vCloud functionality VMware is touting at VMworld this week?

The answer is no, because vCloud hasn’t been delivered yet and probably won’t be until the first half of 2010. If you answered yes, don’t feel too bad because VMware, in its efforts to prepare the market for vCloud, has made the current state very confusing.

First off, the company grandfathered all the members of its VMware Service Provider Partner (VSPP) program into being vCloud partners. This has led many a traditional hoster – who doesn’t even have an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud platform to say they are now a cloud. Sorry, but if you can’t automatically provision VMs upon request from a self-service portal, don’t have pay per use billing and require a 12-month commitment, you’re not a cloud platform.

Second, a hosting provider can support the vSphere VM format without letting you manage your VMs in a standard way (they don’t even have to give you access via vCenter). And third, if you want to integrate with their platform programmatically, their APIs are likely their own.

Why does this matter? You use VMware in-house, you just want a cloud that does too. The VM format supported isn’t really the issue (heck converting your VMs from VMDK to, OVF, to Xen or to Amazon AMI if fairly trivial. And tools like Citrix’ Project Kensho do this very effectively).  Management is where this really matters because the simplest way to consume IaaS cloud resources is when you can use your own tools for deployment, monitoring and reporting, administration, security, integration and life cycle management. And that simply isn’t the case today (thank you Amazon for letting enterprises finally manage cloud security with their own tools).

The same criticism can be levied at all Xen-based clouds today, too. Amazon, Rackspace, GoGrid and several other hosters have published the APIs to their cloud platforms but only Amazon’s, thus far, have a realistic chance of reaching de facto standard status (especially when Eucalyptus and the Sun cloud – if it ever sees the light of day under Oracle – use the same APIs).

Interoperability requires consistent APIs – a subset at least – among cloud platforms. And VMware took this step today.

It’s a pre-emptive move and a smart one to release its vCloud APIs [hyperlink to this announcement when it is published] and hand them over to the DMTF to manage as public APIs, because it lays the groundwork for a promise of better interoperability and compatibility between IaaS clouds (and enterprise internal and hosted clouds) when vCloud finally arrives.

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