VMworld 2016: VMware and IBM – What Makes Strange Bedfellows Not-So-Strange

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  August 31, 2016

For modern IT vendors, growing their relevance to primary customers is job number one. Many times, they can accomplish that alone but the expanded partnership between VMware and IBM announced at VMworld 2016 this week in Las Vegas highlights a situation where creative collaboration is undeniably important.

The details of the partnership expansion are pretty straightforward. Early in 2016, the companies said they were working together to eliminate the costs and risks of extending VMware workloads from on-premises IT environments to the cloud. Said costs and risks are related to retooling operations, re-architecting applications and re-designing security policies to keep things working properly.

Those efforts were a success, and since then over 500 of the companies’ mutual enterprise and cloud service provider (CSP) clients have been migrating their VMware workloads to dedicated instances in IBM Cloud’s 50+ global data centers.

This latest announcement was triggered by VMware’s Cloud Foundation which combines the vSphere, Virtual SAN, NSX and SDDC Manager solutions in the company’s vCloud Air Network (vCAN) stack into an integrated, simple to configure and deploy platform. Cloud Foundation can be deployed on-premises by customers or as service running in VMware’s vCAN partners’ clouds.

As a result, organizations can now easily load their pre-configured VMware Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) environments onto IBM Cloud. While that was something they could do before, Cloud Foundation allows them to complete the task in hours or days rather than weeks or months. In addition, IBM said it plans to train over 4,000 service professionals with the skills required to help customers provision VMware and Cloud Foundation solutions.

The strategic value of tactical innovation

That’s great from a practical standpoint. After all, making complex processes simpler, easier and cheaper has long been central to the value of innovative IT vendors and solutions. But the efforts that resulted in Cloud Foundation are also crucial to the long term financial health and well-being of VMware and IBM.

Why so? It isn’t an exaggeration to say that cloud computing has fundamentally altered the businesses and commercial opportunities of enterprise IT vendors, including VMware and IBM. Though both were responsible for developing advances exploited by public cloud players, like Amazon, Microsoft and Google, those companies prefer open source and their own proprietary technologies to licensing other vendors’ solutions.

That impacted markets that VMware and IBM hoped to exploit for themselves, but it also opened other opportunities, especially those resulting from deep engagements with individual and shared enterprises and CSP customers. Many of these clients want to utilize public cloud services but solutions that also effectively support their on-premises IBM- and x86-based systems are difficult to find.

The customer-centric reality that VMware and IBM are addressing is two-fold. First, thousands of enterprises depend on workloads and applications that have lived in on-premises IBM mainframe and Power Systems for years, and will continue to do so. Second, those same businesses also operate tens of thousands of x86-based systems, most of which utilize VMware solutions.

That’s where an interesting weakness of public cloud operators comes into play. All of them want to engage with large enterprise customers, and all claim to offer solutions that give critical applications the class support they need. But all do the job a bit differently, and none offers the seamless migration capabilities of VMware’s Cloud Foundation or the dedicated instances available in IBM Cloud’s data centers.

Those blank spots are what the VMware/IBM partnership aims to fill.

Not so strange bedfellows

It won’t be surprising if some are confused by this expanded partnership. After all, at numerous levels VMware and IBM are following divergent competitive paths.

VMware is a solution provider that has long advocated x86-based servers as alternatives to traditional mainframe and RISC-based systems. In stark contrast, IBM has largely exited the x86 business and sold both its PC and System x organizations to Lenovo. It also tirelessly promotes the innovative value of its homegrown enterprise-class z System mainframe and Power Systems solutions.

However, the two companies also share a great deal of history. Prior to the sale of System x, IBM was one of the industry’s largest resellers of VMware licenses. That was no surprise, since many System x and related technologies (like the M5 Memory Expansion modules) were designed to maximize the performance of VMware and other memory-intensive applications.

VMware and IBM also both hold enviable positions with enterprise and CSPs. IBM’s position here is part of its organizational and technological DNA, and has been central to the company’s business and development efforts for decades. VMware’s deep technical expertise makes its solutions especially valuable for larger enterprises and service providers, and the company has continued to grow and prosper despite the efforts of aggressive, well-financed competitors.

In other words, this continued deepening of VMware and IBM’s partnership makes perfect common and strategic sense.

Final analysis

In essence, VMware and IBM are offering enterprises and CSPs a collaborative, one-stop shop for fulfilling their private, public and hybrid cloud service requirements. No competing vendors offer better levels of experience and expertise in those use cases and workloads. Plus, by fully supporting the core needs of key enterprises and CSPs, the pair are underscoring their proactive adaptability to changing customer and market requirements.

Overall, VMware and IBM’s Cloud Foundation efforts represent the evolution of a longstanding innovative partnership where everyone, except the two companies’ competitors, wins.

© 2016 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.