Cloud Courting: Round 1

James VMware and Citrix want to be your cloud infrastructure provider. The competing virtual infrastructure makers announced dueling cloud initiatives this week aimed at providing xSPs with simple to deploy and buy cloud computing platforms that come from very different angles and may serve to bifurcate the mid to small market service provider space.

Citrix Cloud Center (abbreviated as C3, a nice homage to cloud pioneer Amazon Web Services' S3 cloud service) gives xSPs a portfolio of tools for automating virtual machine deployment, movement, and SLA management. It bundles together their XenServer Virtual Infrastructure, Netscaler application switch, WANScaler access gateway and bandwidth optimizer, and the forthcoming Workflow Studio for application self-provisioning and admin orchestration.

Since most of the public clouds today are based on the Xen hypervisor, this solution should be a fairly complimentary deployment for those xSPs looking to add a cloud service to their portfolio or to enhance an existing basic cloud offering. Citrix is also wisely offering the solution on a consumption basis, rather than up front licensing fees, and is offering revenue sharing for xSPs that resell the suite to customers for their internal use. This suite of tools should be appealing to xSPs in that many are already Netscaler customers and have experienced the improvements it can deliver. The challenge will be getting them to move to a commercial management and provisioning platform. Many service providers have already built their own tools for these purposes or have set processes. Citrix will have to show these partners that their tools deliver greater efficiency and predictability. There's nothing cloud- or xSP-specific in this offering yet but Citrix is taking a listening approach with this offering and knows strategically that the cloud market is its to lose, give its Xen-centric foundation.

VMware is courting clouds from its position of strength –- the enterprise. It knows that the next wave of growth in cloud computing must be with enterprise customers and they are building their virtual infrastructures on VMware. Enterprises are skeptical that public clouds can deliver the security, availability and compatibility with their existing application portfolios they need and are thus inclined to build internal clouds first and to do it with their incumbent hypervisor technology. But infrastructure & operations professionals know they won't be able to offer internal clouds that can deliver large scale if needed and thus would like to ability to flex these clouds up to a xSP partner when they need to. They just want this flexing to look like and behave like the resources they already have under management -- thus the opportunity for VMware vCloud.

At the VMworld show, CEO Paul Maritz said that VMware already has over 100 xSPs signed on for this initiative including big names like Savvis, British Telecom, Verizon, SunGard and T-Systems. But these aren't the big names in cloud computing today and simply signing up for this initiative may be more an issue of being a good partner with VMware rather than a solid commitment to the program.

No doubt VMware's value proposition to enterprise customers is spot on but xSPs work on thin margins, and aren't inclined to pay for software. And with the first open standard for virtual machines, OVF being ratified this week, a credible case for hypervisor agnosticity can be made by Citrix and existing non-VMware clouds, like Amazon EC2. That said, xSPs want to deliver what their customers ask for and they are asking for (and getting) VMware today for persistent virtual hosting.

The value propositions being put forth by these two competitors appeal to different sides of the cloud equation and could end up being two classes of service offered by the xSP community. Citrix could strengthen its offering by adding XenApp and XenDesktop services which have strong enterprise traction or may be natural enterprise opportunities for C3.

Neither company's effort is a finished product, or even ready for production deployment, so it's just a courting exercise today, much like IBM's Blue Cloud. Microsoft, RedHat, Novell and other players with a dog in this fight are yet to enter the fray publically and could disrupt or overshadow these value propositions. But at this stage xSPs have no shortage of choices and soon, neither will you.

By James Staten

Check out James' research