VMware popularized the idea of a virtual machine and forever changed the face of IT. But, when the industry began to move away from private data centers and toward the public cloud, VMware saw the future, and decided to start a public cloud business of its own.
This week it exited that business when it sold vCloud Air to a French company.
It was always going to be tough sledding for VMware to build its own public cloud. Although the attempt made a lot of sense, like most disrupted companies it kind of dragged its heels and never seemed to take it very seriously.
That's probably because VMware saw its primary business in the data center, and even though it seemed to recognize that the future was in the cloud, it was difficult to make the necessary resource investments to build a public cloud presence, while preserving its core business.
The end was clearly near for its public cloud service when VMware announced a deal with AWS in October where customers could run VMware virtual machines on AWS infrastructure. With that kind of capabilitity on its way, the need for its own service became increasingly redundant.
Too much, too little, too late
By the time VMware got going in the public cloud, the market had already been set by AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others. We've seen other large legacy companies like HP and Cisco also try, and eventually give up on the idea of a public cloud service because it's simply too hard when the leading players have so much momentum and increasing scale on their side.
For VMware, it could have been the dominance of AWS, which according to some estimates controls upwards of 40 percent of the cloud infrastructure market, or perhaps the EMC-Dell deal was part of the problem and vCloud Air represented redundancy in the huge combined entity.
Whatever the reason, cracks began to appear in VMware's public cloud ambitions as several executives jumped ship over the last 12-18 months, usually a good sign that the strategy isn't working.
When you think about it, how could it have been successful? There were so many factors working against VMware from the start. And while the public cloud market is expanding rapidly, the size of the market leaders is working against anyone trying to break into that.
As AWS CEO Andy Jassy pointed out in a recent interview, it's very difficult for anyone coming into the market to compete on a scale level with the companies already there. In the end, VMware decided it was better to partner with the AWS than to try and beat it, an approach that makes so much more sense than trying to run its own public cloud.Mark Doliner on Flickr. Used under CC by SA 2.0 license.