Kevin McLaughlin on January 22, 2016
Microsoft and its channel partners are looking to capitalize on the uncertainty surrounding VMware's public cloud strategy by targeting its customers with an Azure-centric sales pitch.
VMware's vCloud Air public cloud, despite being pitched as a "safe landing place" for VMware's private cloud customers, has struggled to gain share in a market dominated by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
Last month, VMware pulled out of a planned cloud joint venture with EMC that would have combined vCloud Air with its parent company's Virtustream unit. VMware parent EMC is in the process of being acquired by Dell, and sources told CRN recently that VMware customers are putting off purchasing decisions until the deal closes.
According to some Microsoft partners, all of this turmoil adds up to an excellent selling opportunity for Azure.
Alex Brown, CEO of 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based Microsoft Azure partner, said his company is "getting significant traction in the marketplace" with Azure Site Recovery (ASR), a service that replicates VMware workloads into Microsoft's public cloud for disaster recovery purposes.
Brown told CRN he's having success in pitching Microsoft's ASR service -- which uses technology from its 2014 acquisition of cloud storage vendor InMage -- to VMware customers. 10th Magnitude launched a marketing campaign earlier this month that highlights the advantages VMware customers can get from using Azure.
"We are using this opportunity to go hard after VMware shops with an Azure based disaster recovery alternative that does not require them to make any changes to their on premises VMware," said Brown. "We're getting traction and have won number of deals in which we're moving VMware shops into Azure."
Behind the scenes, Microsoft ASR is converting virtual machines from the VMware-compatible VMDK format into Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format, which lets them run natively in Azure as a native VM. This means VMware customers can use Azure for disaster recovery and pay only when they need to failover or migrate VMs.
VMware's vCloud Air also has a disaster recovery-as-a-service, but Brown said his VMware customers like ASR because it doesn't require them to change their on-premises VMware configurations. Going with Microsoft can also save VMware customers money, Brown said.
"In one recent case, the Azure-based solution we put in front of the [VMware] customer to move their infrastructure into Azure was half the cost of what VMware was telling them," said Brown.
Microsoft recently unveiled an update to ASR that could make it even more attractive to VMware customers.
The original version of ASR required VMware customers to deploy their own infrastructure VMs in Azure to handle the VM replication, but Microsoft's updated version replicates data directly to Azure, making it easier and cheaper to use.
"Right now, in my opinion, Microsoft offers the best [disaster recovery-as-a-service] solution for Hyper-V or VMware customers, based on price and functionality," Aidan Finn, a Dublin, Ireland-based Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) partner, said in an email.
A VMware spokesman responded to CRN's request for comment by saying that customers are choosing vCloud Air over Azure, because VMware's cloud service "leverages the same tools, technologies and skills that enterprises already have while delivering new cloud capabilities."
"Our cloud service has played an important role in helping VMware customers move to a true hybrid model," said the spokesman. "VMware vCloud Air offers the most compatible cloud platform with the largest supported set of applications and operating systems."
While Microsoft has discussed the ASR pitch to VMware customers in blog posts, the software giant has been relatively quiet about the competitive aspects of the technology. A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment on whether the software giant is planning any ASR marketing campaigns of its own.
Jason Sauers, founder and director of connected systems at Phidiax, a Denver-based Microsoft partner, said while some VMware customers might expand their usage of Azure after seeing positive results from using the ASR product, that doesn't need to happen in order for Microsoft to succeed.
"This world is a hybrid world, so it is more likely for [VMware] customers to leverage their on-premises investments as-is, with some cloud supplement to bring advanced yet affordable capabilities," Sauers told CRN.
"Azure will continue to supply seamless enterprise capability for all platforms, while enabling those who want to convert to specific Microsoft offerings," added Sauers.