What is VMware Cloud on AWS (VMC on AWS)?

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What is VMware Cloud on AWS (VMC on AWS)?

VMware Cloud on AWS is a hybrid cloud service that was launched by VMware back in 2017 and never ceased to grow. Everyone in the tech industry acknowledges the fact that cloud solutions have changed the IT landscape and are here to stay, never mind thrive.

VMware Cloud On AWS

“VMware Cloud On AWS

However, shifting to the cloud is not something you do overnight and simply does not apply to a number of cases. Many IT folks don’t have the means, needs or possibility to migrate all of their workloads to the cloud, however beneficial it would be. In these instances, hybrid cloud is a great compromise to smoothen the transition, especially VMware Cloud on AWS which simplifies the process significantly.

Cloud technicalities

Hybrid cloud

For a complete rundown on hybrid cloud, be sure to check out our guide to VMware hybrid Cloud. Here we will just touch base on the different ways to use the cloud and where Hybrid implementations sit:

    • On-Premise: Using an infrastructure hosted and operated in-house incurs significant up-front investments (CAPEX) and skills to manage. In this instance you have full control, meaning you also have to manage everything.
    • Public cloud: Run your services directly in a cloud provider such as AWS or Azure (SaaS). The infrastructure is mutualized and operated by the provider. There is no up-front cost as you pay for what you consume (OPEX).
    • Hybrid cloud: A mix of the above linking your on-premise infrastructure to an SDDC running in the cloud provider’s datacenters (PaaS or IaaS). You don’t need to worry about managing the hardware nor the management components. Note that VMware also partnered with DellEMC to offer VMware on DellEMC Cloud.

Hybrid cloud implementations offer a great deal of possibilities such as workload mobility, disaster recovery, elastic/burst capacity with no up-front investment costs (up-front payment of subscription excluded).

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

Even though you may have seen these words everywhere on the internet over the past 10 years, I wanted to quickly explain what they mean for those who are not familiar with the terminology. “aaS” stands for “as-a-service” and describes parts of the IT environment that is offered to you as a service by the cloud provider.

Now, the relevant thing here is that the service can be offered at various levels. Ranging from the infrastructure where you get hands-on management on the hypervisor, down to the actual service where you only manage the configuration (syslog, apache, mysql…). Anyway, a picture is worth a thousand words:

The type of cloud services you choose will give you more or less control over the underlying components”

VMware Cloud on AWS

VMware Cloud on AWS is available in most AWS regions of the world and runs the whole SDDC stack on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). It is based on the VMware Cloud Foundation framework which integrates management (vCenter), compute (vSphere), storage (vSAN) and network (NSX-T).

VMC on AWS offers an SDDC in the cloud, closer to AWS services, improving data gravity”

VMC on AWS doesn’t only provides vSphere hosts running in AWS, it includes a plethora of services and offerings. Refer to the roadmap section of the VMware Cloud on AWS page for an exhaustive list of the available and in-development features.

Here are a few important ones that are worth mentioning:

Elastic DRS

Elastic DRS automatically adds and removes vSphere hosts to ensure an optimal number in the cluster in order to satisfy the demand. It is achieved by monitoring the demand and applying an algorithm that will produce scale-out (adding) or scale-in (removing) recommendations.

The decision to add or remove vSphere will depend on the Elastic DRS Policy you selected which will be more or less conservative (impacting the cost eventually). Note that the Rapid Scale-out policy was recently added which provisions multiple hosts simultaneously to cover scenarios like VDI boot storms or host failures.

Elastic DRS policies offers 3 scale-in scale-out policies to choose from

Elastic DRS policies offer 3 scale-in / scale-out policies to choose from”

Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery is critically important but not all organizations can afford a second site to replicate workloads to. VMC on AWS can help those companies by offering DR solutions in the cloud. There are currently 2 main ways offered by VMC on AWS to do this.

VMware Cloud Disaster Recovery aka DRaaS – SaaS

Announced during VMworld 2020, DRaaS is a SaaS solution providing cost-optimized, on-demand disaster recovery. Instead of paying for hosts as replication destination, replicas are stored on relatively cheap cloud storage and restored to a cloud SDDC that is spun up on-demand to improve TCO.

Because restoring involves automatically provisioning an SDDC, which takes a bit of time, the solution is characterized as warm DRaaS. However, it is possible to run a light footprint SDDC called live pilot-light to restore a number of critical workloads in a timely fashion.

The solution will support up to 1,500 VMs across multiple SDDC clusters with DR health checks

The solution will support up to 1,500 VMs across multiple SDDC clusters with DR health checks”

Find out more about DRaaS in our dedicated blog on the topic.

VMware Site Recovery – IaaS

As opposed to DRaaS, VMware Site Recovery is a hot DRaaS solution, meaning the recovery infrastructure is ready to go, SDDC provisioning required. It is built on Site Recovery Manager (SRM) and leverages vSphere Replication to copy the replicas to the destination.

The workloads will be replicated to vSphere hosts running in AWS. The upsides will be that you don’t need to own a DR infrastructure while benefiting from the best RPO/RTO possible. However, this will obviously be reflected in the cost as it is more expensive than the SaaS option.

VMware Site Recovery lets you replicate your workloads to a vSphere backed cloud SDDC”

Hybrid linked mode and Workload mobility

One of the main selling points of hybrid cloud is workload mobility. vCenter hybrid linked mode will link your on-premise SDDC to the one in AWS. By doing this you get to manage both environments from a single pane of glass, share tags and migrate virtual machines using vMotion.

Maximum latency for Hybrid Linked mode is 100ms roundtrip time”

It can be configured in any of the following 2 ways:

    • On-Premise to Cloud: In this model, the Cloud Gateway Appliance acts as a bridge between your on-premises infrastructure and the cloud SDDC. The identity source is already taken care of as the SSO configuration is mapped to the AWS SDDC. You manage the hybrid SDDC by logging into the VMC gateway.
    • Cloud to On-Premise: No need for a VMC Gateway here as you will link directly from the cloud vCenter to the on-premise one. You need to use the cloud vSphere client to manage your hybrid environment. In this scenario, you must add your on-premise identity source to the vCenter in AWS.

The VMC Gateway lets you link your on-premise SDDC to the cloud SDDC”

Once the VPN connection along with firewall rules, SSO and permissions are configured and Hybrid Linked Mode is connected, you can start migrating VMs between your on-premise and cloud SDDC. Nothing new here as it uses the tried and tested vSphere vMotion.

VMware Horizon on VMware Cloud on AWS

Granted the name of this feature is a bit of a mouthful. I assume it is so to differentiate it from “Horizon Cloud”, a separate SaaS offering hosted on IBM Cloud or Azure in which you only manage the desktop pools.

In VMware Horizon on VMC on AWS, you deploy your Horizon infrastructure components in your cloud SDDC just like you would in your on-premise environment. You can then add it to the Cloud Pod Architecture (CPA) of your on-premise environment or you could decide to run all your VDI workloads in the cloud for some reason.

Horizon Cloud pod architecture for VMware Cloud on AWS

Horizon Cloud pod architecture for VMware Cloud on AWS”

A number of use cases can motivate the choice for this architecture such as:

    • Datacenter expansion: Expand the capacity of your VDI infrastructure without investing in new hardware. Burst capacity such as seasonal activities may benefit from it greatly.
    • Application locality: Put your VDI closer to your published AWS services to reduce application latency to a minimum (Data Gravity).
    • Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery: Adding a Horizon pod in AWS to your CPA will open the doors to BC and DR to recover quickly from a failure in your on-premise SDDC.

VMware Tanzu Kubernetes Grid Plus on VMware Cloud on AWS

Tanzu Kubernetes Grid Plus (TKG+) is VMware’s upstream Kubernetes runtime which provides open-source technologies and an automation solution to deploy scalable and multi-cluster Kubernetes environment.

VMC on AWS now lets you deploy an SDDC in the cloud that contains all the components required to leverage Tanzu Kubernetes Grid. You benefit from elastically scalable resources in the cloud for your containerized workloads.

Tanzu Kubernetes Grid (TKG) can now span to VMware Cloud on AWS

Tanzu Kubernetes Grid (TKG) can now span to VMware Cloud on AWS”

Getting started with VMC on AWS

Planning your hybrid cloud journey

Planning your shift to hybrid cloud is an important step in the journey, especially making sure the network aspect is correctly configured and doesn’t contain security issues.

As opposed to listing requirements and prerequisites that get to change quite regularly, I would rather send you to the VMware Cloud Launchpad. Described in VMware’s words as “A One-Stop-Shop for all VMware Cloud Solutions and Infrastructure”.

It is clear and well organized; you will find guidance and a lot of learning material to get started with VMware Cloud on AWS. Again, you will also find some information in our guide to hybrid cloud.

The VMware Cloud Launchpad helps you plan and prepare for your hybrid cloud journey

The VMware Cloud Launchpad helps you plan and prepare for your hybrid cloud journey”

Deploying virtual machines

Deploying a VM directly to your AWS SDDC is fairly similar to what you would do in your on-premise environment and can be done in several ways. VMware actually redirects to the regular vSphere documentation when it comes to it.

    • Creating a new VM from scratch.
    • Cloning existing VMs or templates.
    • Deploying an OVF or OVA template.
    • Deploying a VM from an uploaded OVF or OVA file.

Because the SDDC runs in AWS, some operations available in your on-premise environments won’t be possible in the cloud SDDC such as RDM, SCSI BUS sharing, Hyperthreading, virtual disk types… You can find the complete list of unsupported features in the VMware Documentation.

Content libraries let you synchronize resources from the on-premise datacenter to the cloud SDDC”

Note that operations will be significantly facilitated if you leverage vSphere Content Libraries. You can publish a library from your on-premise environment and have the vCenter in AWS subscribe to it. That way you get to manage your ISO and templates from a single place.

Migrating virtual machines

Most companies committing to a hybrid cloud model will almost surely get to the discussion of migrating workloads between environments, be it from or to the SDDC running in AWS. We call it a Hybrid migration.

The fact is there are again multiple ways to migrate virtual machines to VMware Cloud on AWS:

    • VMware HCX

VMware HCX is an application mobility platform that facilitates workload mobility across environments without requiring a reboot or network interruption. It is particularly relevant in bulk migration scenarios where hundreds of VMs have to be moved.

    • vMotion (cold)

You can also move VMs in powered off state where VM downtime is not an issue. That way you ensure CPU compatibility and VMs connected to standard switches can be moved.

    • vMotion (live)

The one and only vSphere vMotion can be used to relocate your workload (vDS networking only) between your on-premise and cloud SDDCs. It will obviously move the storage of the VM as well and maintain its active state. It can be done from the vSphere client as long as Hybrid linked mode is enabled and your SDDC runs supported vSphere versions (vSphere 6.7U2/6.5U3 or higher).

Note that EVC is disabled in the Cloud SDDC. Hence, it is recommended to enable Per-VM EVC or set your on-premise SDDC to Broadwell. This will ensure that you can migrate live workloads between your SDDCs.

Per-VM EVC ensure CPU compatibility for workload migrations across SDDCs”

Accessing AWS services

While we are talking about VMware Cloud on AWS, I also wanted to touch base on AWS’s SaaS offering. When deploying an SDDC with VMC on AWS, a high speed, low latency link is created with your Amazon VPC.

Meaning, your workloads will run closer to your cloud services such as EC2 or S3 to offer LAN-like communications. This is called data gravity and is highly beneficial for latency sensitive applications accessing cloud services.

Pricing

The pricing model for VMware Cloud on AWS is based on the number and type of hosts that you will use in your cloud SDDC. You can either choose to pay on-demand ($/host/hour) or go for a 1- or 3-year(s) subscription ($/host/year). Paying upfront for a subscription will obviously save you money over time but the investment is significant.

If you want to know more, head over to the VMware Cloud on AWS pricing calculator to estimate the costs.

Number of hosts

The number of hosts you run will depend on your needs but there are minimums. Production environments can start with as little as 2 hosts backed with i3.metal servers or 3 hosts backed with i3en.metal servers. You can then scale up as demand increases.

Note that a time-bound low-cost single-host option is also available for organizations willing to try the service to see if it works with their environment and add value. Be mindful that if you don’t scale up the cluster within 30 days, the SDDC is deleted along with the data stored on it. It starts at $7/hour, which is ok, but watch out as it will set you back $5,110 per month if it runs for the full 30 days!

Types of hosts

When planning for your cloud SDDC, you can choose from 2 server configurations for which the cost will vary.

VMC on AWS server configurations as of April of 2021

VMC on AWS server configurations as of April of 2021”

Conclusion

In the last few years, it’s been fascinating to witness VMware’s vision “Any app, any cloud” come to life thanks to a series of acquisitions and partnerships with major tech companies in the industry like Amazon AWS. After four years of continuous improvements, VMware Cloud on AWS is getting traction and customers are getting on board.

While VMware on AWS might appear, and rightly so, like a pretty expensive service, it will bring some much-needed breathing space to IT departments that struggle to balance CAPEX management and innovation. By shifting some of those large up-front acquisitions to an OPEX model, you don’t need to worry about amortization, hardware, cabling, patching, upgrades… anymore.

VMware also thought about vSphere administrators as your knowledge and skills are transferable to VMware Cloud on AWS thanks to it using the same management tools.

If you want to give it a go, the single-host option lets you test the service for 30 days for about $7 per hour. Remember not to store any important data on it if you are not going to scale up the SDDC as it will be deleted at the 30 days mark.

Alternatively, you can have a glimpse at VMC on AWS in the dedicated hands-on-labs offered for free by VMware.

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Frequently Asked Questions

> VMC on AWS is based on the VCF framework (VMware Cloud Foundation) which includes compute, storage, networking and management. > The vSphere hosts in AWS run on bare-metal hardware, owned and operated by Amazon. > The cloud vCenter can be linked to your on-premise environment to achieve SDDC hybridity. > You become a user of the environment and no longer need to worry about operations such as patching or upgrading.
> There are 2 axes to this question which we'll answer separately: > A) The bare-metal hosts providing the cloud SDDC are installed with vSphere ESXi, so technically you are already running ESXi on AWS. > B) If you want to run nested ESXi (in a VM), it is possible but there are a number of caveats to be aware of such as VM networking, datastores etc...
> VMC on AWS is an IaaS solution that offers the complete SDDC stack in the cloud on Amazon bare-metal servers. > It removes the upfront costs related to acquiring the hardware, licenses, labor. You only pay for the resources you use as you can scale up and down according to the demand (CAPEX -> OPEX). > Other SaaS and PaaS services are available such as disaster recovery, app modernization, VDI...
> Deploying a VM in VMC on AWS is fairly similar to doing it on-premise. In fact, the documentation is the same and there is a dedicated page to point out the caveats of VMC on AWS. > The recommended method is to create a content library subscribed to an on-premise one and deploy from it.

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