Sources: Microsoft To Support VMware Workloads On Azure Public Cloud Starting In Q3

Microsoft is set to roll out technology in the third quarter that will allow VMware-based virtual machines to run on its Azure public cloud, multiple sources familiar with the software giant's plans told CRN this week.

The sources said VMware customers will essentially be able to create a VMware environment on Azure that matches what they're running locally in their data center. This will allow them to quickly and easily move workloads -- and all of their associated configurations -- back and forth in a hybrid cloud.

Chris Hertz, CEO of New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner, said supporting VMware virtual machines in Azure "would make a ton of sense."

"A lot of customers are running on VMware, and frankly are interested in eventually getting off of it to save money," said Hertz, who hadn't previously heard about Microsoft's plans. "Letting them move those VMs up to Azure without having to worry about the hypervisor would be a great win for everyone."

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In one basic hybrid scenario, if a VMware private cloud environment were to become overloaded or unavailable, the VMware workload could shift over to Microsoft's Azure cloud and continue running until the situation improves.

Both Microsoft and VMware tout hybrid cloud to their customers, but because they use different server hypervisors that aren't compatible with each other, moving workloads back and forth can be a time consuming process.

Microsoft and VMware declined comment.

Microsoft is using technology from its acquisition of cloud storage vendor InMage to enable VMware workloads to run on Azure, the sources said. Microsoft uses InMage in its Migration Accelerator for Azure, a tool that automatically converts workloads from VMware and Amazon Web Services environments to run on Azure.

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Tony Safoian, president and CEO of SADA Systems, a North Hollywood, Calif.-based Microsoft partner, said the cloud market's movement toward interoperability is "necessary and good for everyone," especially customers.

"What software vendors are signaling is, 'I don't care what software you're using as long as you run it in my cloud,' Safoian said. VMware in Azure would be one example, and Windows Server running on Google's Cloud Platform is another, he added.

According to some of CRN's sources, Microsoft has been working on VMware support in Azure for the past few years, and those plans accelerated after the InMage acquisition last July.

VMware supports nested virtualization but Microsoft's Hyper-V does not. However, sources said Microsoft is planning to add nested virtualization support in its forthcoming Windows Server vNext release, slated for early 2016.

Supporting VMware on Azure is the latest in a string of moves Microsoft has made to support competing technologies, which has accelerated since Satya Nadella took over as CEO last February. Azure already supports a variety of Linux distributions, as well as apps from Oracle, SAP and IBM.

However, VMware support on Azure is arguably more significant because Microsoft has long seen VMware as its primary competitor in the data center, and has wasted few opportunities over the years to trash talk its rival.

At Microsoft's partner conference last July, COO Kevin Turner said Hyper-V is four-times cheaper than VMware, and offered to "baptize" any partners in the audience that might be using VMware in their environments.

Adding VMware support to Azure could be a way for Microsoft to put pressure on vCloud Air in the public cloud market, because unlike VMware, Microsoft is battling a price war with Amazon Web Services and Google.

If Microsoft makes it easy for VMware customers to run their workloads on Azure, VMware could be forced to adjust its vCloud Air pricing, one longtime partner speculated in an interview with CRN.

"This would be a game changer and something that would enable VMware customers to take immediate advantage of the economics of Azure," the partner said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But while adding VMware support to Azure could dissuade VMware customers from using the vendor's vCloud Air public cloud, some sources told CRN they believe VMware may actually be working with Microsoft to enable this.

VMware is now pitching itself as a cloud-agnostic vendor whose technology can work in all kinds of different customer scenarios. Teaming up with Microsoft would be a big move in this direction, and VMware would benefit by selling more software to enable the hybrid cloud scenario, sources said.

Microsoft, meanwhile, would benefit from this arrangement by getting more VMware customers onto Azure and exposing them to other cloud services it offers. "This would really be a win-win for both vendors," one partner that works with Microsoft and VMware told CRN.

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Another reason the integration makes sense is because most enterprises today are running two or three hypervisors in their environments, and certain apps will only run on certain hypervisors.

"We have certain vendor solutions, Avaya unified communications solutions for example, that run only on VMware," Steve Tutino, president of Ipanema Solutions, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Microsoft partner. "We're waiting anxiously for Microsoft to release VMware support in Azure."

The ability to move workloads between different data centers and clouds has long been the goal for the industry, but data centers tend to be siloed around specific workloads. It's been possible to move workloads from private to public clouds for several years, but it's easiest to pull off when the clouds are based on the same software stack.

Microsoft's support of VMware on Azure signals not only that the hypervisor wars are over, but also focuses more industry attention on the bigger prizes in the cloud market that lie ahead, one longtime VMware and Microsoft told CRN.

"The hypervisor is table stakes to get in the bigger game of automating and orchestrating workloads to your cloud. That is where the real money is going to be made on software and services," said the partner.