HotLink's new Hybrid Express product is big news for companies looking to make the move to a hybrid public/private cloud environment. But its release also sheds some light on server virtualization trends in many enterprise environments.
Led by ex-FastScale Technology founders Lynn LeBlanc and Richard Offer, HotLink's mission is to make it easy to carry out day to day operations on virtual machines running on VMware's hypervisor alongside VMs running on Microsoft's Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer or Red Hat's KVM.
It achieves this feat using SuperVisor, a clever piece of software that works with VMware's vCenter management product and translates vCenter commands into ones that the non-VMware hypervisors understand. Essentially, these other hypervisors think they are talking to their own "native" management systems — Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager in the case of Hyper-V, XenCenter in the case of Xen, and so on.
Hotlink released SuperVisor for vCenter because that's what the vast majority of administrators use, and the company's original plan was to follow this up with versions of SuperVisor for System Center and other management systems. This is what HotLink's presumed potential customers were after — the ability to manage heterogeneous virtualization environments from consoles other than vCenter.
There is demand for such a capability, to be sure, but it turns out that what HotLink's customers say they really want is the ability to manage cloud environments from vCenter in the same way that SuperVisor allows them to manage Hyper-V, XenServer and other hypervisors from vCenter.
And that's why HotLink's latest product is Hybrid Express, rather than a version of SuperVisor for System Center or Xen Center.
What the product does is bring Amazon EC2 or CloudStack cloud environments under the control of vCenter. From there administrators can clone and create snapshots of machines running in the cloud. In fact, they can do just about everything in the cloud that they can do in a local VMware environment except carry out live migrations.
While you might think that the "Express" bit of "Hybrid Express" means that this is the cut down or "Lite" version of some fuller product, Jerry McLeod, HotLink's vice president of marketing and business development, says that actually the term has been used to ram home the fact that an enterprise's journey to the cloud needn't be a long term project.
"With Hybrid Express," McLeod says, "we are talking about downloading the software, providing your cloud account details, and you're done. No professional services are required, and if you can use vCenter you can use a public as well as a private cloud."
What's interesting about this is that it tells us that expanding VMware environments to the public cloud is a bigger trend than running heterogeneous environments from anything other than vCenter.
But what's also enlightening is that big VMware customers want to move to hybrid cloud environments using Amazon (and maybe also CloudStack). And not, as VMware would prefer, using VMware-based cloud providers.
"Very few big environments are using VMware clouds, but we found that almost all companies have an EC2 account," said McLeod.
The fact that HotLink has chosen to release Hybrid Express right now could have some interesting implications. That's because the majority of cloud implementations in the future are likely to be hybrid ones, and if HotLink is interpreting its customers' intentions correctly, these cloud implementations are likely to be VMware/EC2 ones or perhaps VMware/CloudStack ones (or even VMware/OpenStack ones when the platform becomes more mature).
And while Microsoft is finding success with its Hyper-V hypervisor, it may well be that in homogenous environments, vCenter (and therefore VMware) will be at the center of it all.
That would be bad news for Microsoft and its aggressively marketed Hyper-V, bad news for VMware cloud partners and bad news for third party builders of System Center plug-ins. But it would be good news for Amazon and CloudStack-based cloud providers, and above all, it would be very good news for VMware.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.