Voices in Cloud – Episode 15: A Conversation with Duncan Epping of VMWare

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David speaks with guest Duncan Epping about his journey through VMWare and working through and with data centers.


Duncan Epping is VMware’s Senior Director and Chief Technologist for HCI in EMEA. In that role, he serves as a partner and trusted adviser to VMware’s customers and partners. Main responsibilities are ensuring VMware’s HCI future innovations align with essential customer needs and translating customer problems to opportunities and function as the global lead evangelist for HCI. Duncan has authored 11 books on the topic of VMware including “VMware vSAN Deep Dive”, the “vSphere Clustering Deepdive” series, is the owner of Yellow-Bricks.com, and has 6 patents granted on the topic of availability, storage, and resource management.


David Linthicum: Hey, guys, welcome to the GigaOm Voices in Cloud podcast. This is the one place where you will hear from industry thought leaders, providing no-nonsense advice on how to succeed with cloud computing, IoT, edge computing, and cognitive computing. I’m Dave Linthicum, best-selling author, speaker, B-list geek, your host today, and joining me is my special guest, Duncan Epping. He’s with VMware.

Duncan, tell us about your journey to VMware. I always love these stories... how you came to be working there. What’s your background? What do you like to work on? Also, tell us something personal about yourself. What are your hobbies and things that get you up in the morning?

Duncan Epping: Sure. First of all, thanks for having me. It’s always cool to be on these industry podcasts. It’s something different than the podcast, in my opinion, so that’s a first. My name is Duncan Epping, as you already mentioned. I started working for VMware about 12 years ago.

Before I joined VMware, I was actually a customer. I used to work for a large insurance company, and I worked for a couple of consultant companies as well. When I was in those positions, I primarily focused on the data center management and data center design. Back in the days, especially when I started doing the consulting, VMware was the up and coming player. We very much were in the stage where customers still had a lot of challenges in terms of power cooling, more compute loads ramping up. They were causing all sorts of problems in the data center.

That was my primary focus back then: to make sure that the customers could move forward. I started looking into the virtualization space. VMware was more or less the only player, so I became a virtualization consultant. Back then it was more VMware consultant. I did that for a couple of years.

VMware reached out to me and asked me if I was interested in joining them and doing something very similar. They asked me if I was interested in having a professional services role, so I joined VMware almost 12 years ago as a senior consultant. We focused a lot on the larger enterprise customers in Europe. These are the Vodafones of the world, companies like ING, Shell, Rabobank, larger financial institutions, you name it. I’ve done projects all throughout Europe.

The primary focus back then, of course, was on virtualization layer. After I did that for a couple of years, I think what was interesting was [that] I moved to this new business unit that was our cloud business unit back in the days when we introduced vCloud Director. I think that’s about nine years ago or something like that. Back then vCloud Director was early to the market. Not everyone really understood what it was about. There were a lot of challenges in terms of adoption, what people would be doing with it, how they could be using it.

It didn’t really take off except for a couple of larger cloud providers that ended up using it. The funny thing is, nine years later VMware has close to 5,000 VMware cloud partners running the platform at this stage. Those are larger cloud platforms. That has definitely taken off. Personally, I went a different direction. I kind of left the consultancy behind.

I was offered a role in technical marketing. I moved into the technical marketing space pretty quick[ly]. I was already doing a lot of blogging. I had written a couple of books at that point, so the technical marketing team invited me for an interview. I became the technical marketing guy for everything around availability and resource management. I did that for awhile.

Then I actually moved up in the ranks within the technical marketing team. I became responsible for the software-defined data center. Then as part of a, in my opinion, natural evolution, I was asked to become a chief technologist for the storage and availability business units. In my case, that means I get to talk about products like vSAN and virtual volumes. I became the manager on the databases with customers, but also with partners and anyone who was interested. That was the work aspect of things. That’s more or less my career and what I’ve done over the past 12 years, in a couple of minutes.

On a personal level, I’ve already mentioned I’ve done a lot of blogging. I have a personal blog, so that is something that keeps me busy. I’ve written a bunch of books. The most recent ones are the vSAN Deep Dive book and the Clustering Deep Dive book. The Clustering Deep Dive book focuses on vSphere HA and vSphere DRS. It’s a very technical book. Of course, the vSphere and Deep Dive book focuses on vSAN.

Besides that, on a personal level I also have a wife and two kids. I like to spend my time doing Tae Kwon Do. I think I have a pretty full schedule, to say the least.

Your accent, is that Dutch?

Correct. That’s Dutch.

I love a good Dutch accent. I’ve got a question for you. What are the three favorite things about VMware technology that you get excited about right now?

In terms of the products?

In terms of technology. Even the aspects or the application of the product, the ability to solve a problem quickly, the ability to deal with the user interface, it’s very intuitive for the users, the ability to deal with complexity issues, which I know you guys deal with. Going forward, what excites you about your technology?

I think the company is at an interesting state at this point in time. If you look at some of the VMworld keynotes, for instance, where Pat Gelsinger talks about the three different stages of the company that we’ve gone through, growing from a virtualization company with a hypervisor and some solutions for a desktop and moving towards the software-defined data center, I think the software-defined data center is one thing that excites me because it simplifies, in my opinion, at least the operational aspect for customers, not just from a security perspective. It may be even more so when you look at things like storage and networking and all of the other components that are involved. The ability to have a solution from a single vendor that actually forms a well-integrated product or solution is rather unique.

Going forward, what I think is more interesting is what VMware is doing in the edge of service space. We’ve already mentioned it at a couple of events, but not everyone may have really noticed it. If you look at the VMware cloud on the AWS offering, for instance, this is basically a software-defined data center as a service that runs in an Amazon data center. You don’t have to have a data center yourself. You can simply consume a server status hosted by AWS but managed by VMware and running VMware technology. That also means from a skill set perspective as an administrator, that you don’t need to have a new skill set or acquire new knowledge. You can even use the same tools that you have available today and leverage that on that particular service.

Other things that we offer and are looking into is, for instance, delivering an SDDC as a service on premises. This is something that has been externally announced or discussed as Project Dimension. Dell technology has also mentioned this as a solution that will be delivered through Dell. I think that’s also an interesting one because Project Dimension basically allows you to deliver a software-defined data center, which is managed by VMware running on top of Dell technology’s hardware. It sits on premises, meaning you have your own data center location. We actually manage that solution for you.

It’s very similar to what we would have with VMware cloud on AWS, the only difference being that this is on premises instead of being in the cloud. Of course, that has the big advantage that you have the compute resources, the data, or the storage literally sitting next to you. From a latency perspective, I think that is probably beneficial for a lot of customers. I think those are the two things at this point in time that excite me if I look at it from a company perspective.

If I look at it from a business unit perspective, I think the hyper-converged offering is something that is really taking off. If you look at the broader industry as a whole, there are basically two leaders in this space. It’s VMware and Nutanix. Then there are a couple of smaller players, and it’s really starting to pick up. We’re starting to see a huge customer momentum.

We recently announced that we have 20,000 customers with vSAN. With the second player in Nutanix, I think they are around 12,000 or 13,000 customers, something like that. It’s growing at an immense pace. This is also something that I think is very interesting and very exciting as well.

A few years ago we were all surprised when VMware announced they were going to run on the AWS cloud. Obviously, we had a lot of questions around that. Here we are a few years later. How has that gone? What are the challenges, and what are some of the opportunities that you guys didn’t see that are there right now?

I think that’s a very valid point. It actually caught a lot of customers and analysts and press by surprise. Back in the days when we started talking about this internally, the whole world was convinced that everyone would move towards the public clouds. I think at this point in time, most people will agree that we won’t see companies, at least not most companies, moving towards a public cloud environment. The hybrid cloud is very much reality, especially with edge computing initiative happening and more and more customers looking into the IoT space and you name it.

I think that’s also where the challenge is going to be. I don’t think, per se, that there’s a challenge when it comes to VMware cloud on AWS and adopting it. I think most customers understand how it works. The learning curve is almost flat because it’s very similar to what they have on premises. If you’ve used vSphere before or you used NSX or vSAN, you know how to use VMware cloud and AWS. It’s very similar. The only difference is that VMware is responsible for patching and updating and upgrading, you name it.

I think the challenge in the future is going to be how to figure out how we can combine all of these different efforts in a single offering and how customers can connect all of these different types of solutions across the wire, especially when you’re starting to look at edge locations, having some workloads in a public cloud, having some workloads still on premises. What’s the impact of latency between those different locations? Do we need to move data around? What kind of data do we need to move around?

If we are moving data around, why are we moving it around? Can we potentially process it locally? Of course, all of that will depend on what kind of locations and devices are available. I think that’s where the complexity is probably going to be in the upcoming years, trying to figure out what we do with those edge locations, how we can utilize those, and how we can ensure that we don’t move data around that doesn’t need to be moved around because the movement of data is relatively expensive. With edge locations, people expect that will be producing about 40% of the total amount of data that will need to be stored. You can imagine that is going to be problematic.

What are the lessons learned as we journey through the years with VMware on AWS or VMware in the cloud or the ability to live with VMware in a public cloud, pseudo hybrid cloud arrangement? What are some of the things that have emerged as best practices, maybe surprises to you and the clients, and some of the things that you weren’t really surprised about?

If you look at it, for a lot of customers what probably surprised them was the simplicity that it brings. If you look at what it takes to bring up a full software-defined data center manually, on premises, you look at all of the different components, network virtualization, storage virtualization, compute virtualization on how you combine those three into a single solution and have the management layer and the orchestration layers on top. That is typically rather complex. What did it really bring them? I think that simplicity was key for a lot of customers, and that was also what a lot of customers were surprised by.

Also, the reliability so far, if you look at the reliability that VMware cloud and AWS has brought customers, I think it’s something that they didn’t expect. In some cases some public clouds don’t always have a great reputation. I think what surprised them is that what we offer is a virtualization layer that can potentially go across multiple availability zones. It gives them a level of abstraction that they haven’t seen within the cloud before where they normally would need to refactor the application. Now they get that level of availability within a public cloud without having the need to refactor the application itself.

The challenges typically that we see are usually in the organizational aspect of things. The operational aspect can also be challenging, as you can imagine. As soon as you start looking at these larger public cloud offerings and you look at what customers have been doing historically over the past 20 years, the way you consume these services and the way you manage the environment is substantially different to what they’ve been doing. That is typically a cultural shock. I think ‘shock’ is probably the best word. It can cause some problems or challenges from an organizational perspective because not everyone instantly sees the opportunities that may arise when you start making these types of changes.

Some people like to stick to what they have in the past. Some people potentially see new opportunities arising. I think that is typically the biggest challenge. How do you figure out what type of role someone can fulfill in the new world? I think that is the biggest challenge typically.

The funny thing is that we’ve gone through this same exercise the past 20 years. With virtualization we have the exact same problem. We started virtualizing workloads so that people who were managing the physical service said “What do I do next?” There’s of course, a virtualization layer that needs to be managed. When we started looking at the SDDC space, we started virtualizing the network, and we started virtualizing the storage systems. The storage people and the network people say that sounds great. Now that the virtualization team is responsible for these different layers, what do I do next?

Of course, there’s always opportunities there because even these virtualized platforms need to be managed in some shape or form. The same applies to workloads that run in the public cloud. It is a different mindset, and that is something that customers will need to get used to. How do I manage these systems? What am I responsible for? What does my monitoring for these systems look like? Do I need to make any changes to my orchestration layer?

Going forward, and this is a question I get from my clients a ton, what is the future of VMware? Where are you guys going to invest in the technology over the next few years? How are you going to work and play well with the emerging and changing world of cloud computing, such as multi-cloud and the ability to deal with more complex security models and the ability to take cloud to the next level, but in essence participate as a team of technologists?

That is something that I think all of us have been asking ourselves as well. If you look at how VMware is positioned and how they’ve positioned themselves in the past couple of years, I think we are perfectly positioned in a multi-cloud world at this point in time. We are one of the few, or probably the only vendor that has multiple cloud offerings. Through Dell technologies there is a VMware cloud that runs within Azure. We have VMware cloud and AWS. Of course, Google is probably around the corner as well. They already have offerings that are running VMware technologies underneath.

On top of that we have multiple different management solutions, something like vRealize Automation, for instance, which has the capabilities to provision workloads within different cloud platforms on top of that, whether that’s VMware cloud on AWS, AWS native, Azure native. We have those capabilities as part of our platform. Going forward, what I expect to be at least one of the biggest efforts is Project Dimension, as I’ve already mentioned. It’s one of the Azure service offerings. We will be running the SDDC on premises for you. We will be responsible for managing and maintaining it.

I think for customers going forward, that will also be a great way of making a connection into a public cloud. That management platform for now, what it looks like will be running in AWS. As you can imagine, there’s going to be some form of connection to AWS. I think that ability to move workloads from on premises into the public cloud, whether that’s VMware cloud and AWS or potentially even AWS native, I think it is something that customers will truly start to appreciate. That platform over time will evolve to have the ability to manage edge locations on top of that.

We could potentially have hundreds of different locations all throughout the world. We manage through a single interface in a common way as well. Instead of having multiple interfaces and multiple tool sets, our focus is going to be to provide you a consistent way of managing multiple different solutions through our stack. I think that is something that is going to be key for customers.

That’s exciting stuff. I’m looking forward to it. I think VMware is really foundational technology for most of the enterprises that I work with. I think that what you guys are doing right now is going to set the stage of success for lots of enterprises moving forward.

Please pick up a copy of my book, Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence available on Amazon and other places books are sold. Also make sure to follow me on Twitter @DavidLinthicum, as well as LinkedIn where I have several cloud community courses on LinkedIn Learning, including a cloud architecture course that just went out.

Duncan, where can we find you on the web? Where should we look for more information on VMware?

You can find me on my own blog, which is yellow-bricks.com. You can find me on Twitter @DuncanYB. Of course, the VMware website is VMware.com. You can’t miss it. If people have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. Of course, feel free to connect to me on LinkedIn as well.

Thank you very much. This was probably one of the most cogent discussions I’ve had on VMware in a long time. You’re representing your company well. Thank you, Duncan.

Thanks for having me.

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