VMware Cloud Automation Services: The Next Evolution in Multi-Cloud Automation

Disclaimer: As an attendee of Tech Field Day 19, my flights, accommodations, and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. I was not required to write about any of the content presented, and I have not been compensated in any way for this post. Some presenting companies chose to provide gifts to attendees; any such gifts do not impact my reviews or opinions as expressed on this site. All opinions in this post are my own, and do not necessarily represent that of my employer or Gestalt IT.

The last day of Tech Field Day 19 was all about VMware. The recordings from their presentations that day can be found here, but in this post I’ll be focusing on the content presented by Ken Lee and Cody De Arkland on VMware’s Cloud Automation Services (CAS) suite.

Overview

The Cloud Automation Services Suite is a SaaS-based offering designed for multi-cloud management and automation and is currently composed of 3 products:

Cloud Assembly serves as the blueprinting engine, allowing users to deploy workloads, such as infrastructure or containers, to any connected public or private cloud environment. Service Broker is the “storefront” of sorts. It functions as a catalog of services available to users. Tailored policies and request forms can be applied to those available services to non-disruptively maintain organizational controls such as naming, access, cost controls, etc. Code Stream is the CI/CD platform of the product. It leverages the concept of “pipelines” to automate the delivery of applications or infrastructure. Users can integrate existing tools like Gitlab and Jenkins while using Code Stream to orchestrate the flow. Cody does an absolutely excellent job of explaining and demonstrating these products in his Tech Field Day presentations, so be sure to check those out for all the juicy details.

My Thoughts

Those familiar with VMware’s current vRealize Automation product (vRA) will recognize that CAS clearly is a logical progression of the technology vRA offers. Improving the on-boarding process and developing new integrations with third-party tools and platforms are just two of the ways they’ve used customer feedback to improve┬áthe product. What remains to be seen is exactly what parallels will exist between CAS and the next version of vRA, other than the obvious difference in deployment models. Cody hints that we should pay attention to announcements at VMWorld 2019 for more information, and I intend to do just that.

What could not be ignored during the Tech Field Day presentations on CAS was just how flexible this product is. Perhaps the most concise description of that comes from Pietro Piutti:

Being able to connect to both public and private clouds and deploy workloads in just a matter of minutes provides an easy on-ramp for customers. Achieving similar functionality in recent versions of vRA is possible, but the configuration required to do so was more complicated.

That flexibility doesn’t end with the Cloud Assembly product. The entire Cloud Automation Services suite was designed with an “API-first” mentality. That allows the product to be extremely extensible. VMware isn’t asking customers to give up their tools. Do you want to continue to leverage GitHub or GitLab for your code repos? CAS supports that. Are you using Ansible or Puppet for your configuration management? No problem. While watching the demonstrations live at Tech Field Day, I couldn’t help but notice that VMware’s focus for this platform is to make it consumable, regardless of technical approach.

“We’ve taken concepts that could be very complex, and we’ve given people an on-ramp to use them.”

– Cody De Arkland, Technical Marketing Architect at VMware, on using Blueprints in VMware Cloud Assembly

Working in this field, it’s common to see a new product or platform that is impressive in function but requires users to abandon their existing tools or processes. Those processes then have to be rebuilt on the new platform with new methods. That isn’t the play by VMware with Cloud Automation Services. They understand that for this product to be adopted, it must be usable, and they must allow users, administrators, and developers to bring their own tools and processes.

Keep in mind that VMware Cloud Automation Services is a SaaS offering, and that comes with the added benefit of not having to manage the infrastructure to perform these functions. But, SaaS products aren’t for everyone. Although CAS is being touted as the next evolution of vRA, I don’t see vRA being deprecated in favor of CAS. I hope that feature parity is maintained between CAS and vRA moving forward so that the customer can decide what product is right for them, without sacrifice. Cody is refreshingly transparent in his presentations and makes clear that all of a customers’ desired product integrations may not exist yet, but that they take feedback very seriously and are rapidly developing to accommodate for customers’ needs. I’m looking forward to getting an update on the future of these products at VMWorld 2019.

In a nutshell, VMware’s Cloud Automation Services platform allows organizations to embrace DevOps methodologies without attempting to funnel customers into using a particular set of tools. I’m excited to see what is added and refined in the product, as this platform only became generally available early in 2019. If you want to get your hands on the product to learn more, VMware offers a hands-on lab specific to Cloud Automation Services.

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My Take: Ixia’s Visibility Portfolio – As Seen at Tech Field Day 19

Disclaimer: As an attendee of Tech Field Day 19, my flights, accommodations, and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. I was not required to write about any of the content presented, and I have not been compensated in any way for this post. Some presenting companies chose to provide gifts to attendees; any such gifts do not impact my reviews or opinions as expressed on this site. All opinions in this post are my own, and do not necessarily represent that of my employer or Gestalt IT.

The first presenting company of Tech Field Day 19 (TFD19) was Ixia. The focus of their presentation surrounded their network visibility offerings. I’m not going to elaborate on all of the details of their presentations. I would instead encourage you to check them out:

My Thoughts

Although I have a pretty solid understanding of networking principles and regularly spend time troubleshooting problems around the network stack, the products in Ixia’s visibility platform are beyond the scope of what I do daily. Despite that, it’s easy to see where their product line would fit into an enterprise company. They strive to offer increased visibility into network traffic from the datacenter, to the edge, and all the way to the cloud. Companies need to increase security within their networks, but they can’t do that without knowing what is happening within them.

“The number one driver for visibility is security.”

Recep Ozdag – VP and GM of Network Visibility, Ixia

They leverage network taps to pass traffic, packet brokers to organize, aggregate and filter traffic, and also offer options to do the same in the cloud. You are then able to wrap rules and policies around the packet brokers to dictate what traffic is directed to your existing network security tool set, and how much of it. If that seems a little confusing, this diagram of theirs may help.

You may be asking yourself, “Why would I want this?” Perimeter security is great, but it is only a small part of the picture when it comes to securing a network. Enterprise networks create an immense amount of traffic, a large portion of which never touches the perimeter. Trying to funnel all of that traffic through a traditional set of security tools will likely overrun what the tools are capable of processing, or will land you a crazy-high licensing bill for those tools whose pricing are based on ingestion rates. That’s where the beauty of the traffic broker comes in. It allows you to wrap policies around traffic flow to intelligently trim and route packets to your existing security tools in order to maximize their utility.

I’m not going to get any further into the weeds on how it all works (that’s what the presentations are for). If you’re wondering if this type of product is right for you, let’s take a look at this customer statistic they displayed:

Those are some impressive numbers on large companies! However, my guess is that’s because their product is geared towards those large companies. I would be interested to see their customer numbers in the small/medium sized business areas.

Unfortunately, Ixia only had an hour to present at TFD19 and likely didn’t have time to do a demonstration of the platform. They did show us a few screenshots of the UI, and honestly it felt a little dated. I can’t speak to the usability of the interface as I didn’t see it in action, but it does remind me of the iLO2 interfaces from the HPE days of old. Given their customer base, I would assume that the interface functions as expected. I was just hoping for something a little more modern.

TL;DR

Even though the UI leaves a little to be desired, Ixia offers a comprehensive portfolio of products that will help collect, aggregate, and filter network packets in order to maximize the effectiveness of a customer’s existing security tools. I would love to see how Ixia can tailor a solution to help the small businesses of the world achieve similar visibility.

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