Managed and as-a-service models are a growing trend across infrastructure consumers. Customers in general want ease and consistency within both IT and finance, for example opting to shift towards OpEx funding models.
For large or enterprise organisations with significant investments in existing technologies, processes, and skills, refactoring everything into cloud native services can be complex and expensive. For these types of environments the strategy has sharpened from Cloud-First to Cloud-Smart. A Cloud-Smart approach enables customers to transition to the cloud quickly where it makes sense to do so, without tearing up roots on existing live services, and workloads or data that do not have a natural progression to traditional cloud.
In addition to the operational complexities of rearchitecting services, many industries have strict regulatory and compliance rules that must be adhered to. Customers may have specific security standards or customised policies requiring sensitive data to be located on-premises, under their own physical control. Applications may also have low latency requirements or the need to be located in close proximity to data processing or back end systems. This is where VMware Local Cloud as a Service (LCaaS) can help combine the key benefits from both public cloud and on-premises environments.
What is VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts?
VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts is a jointly engineered solution, bringing AWS hardware and the VMware Software Defined Data Centre (SDDC) to the customer premises. The relationship with AWS is VMware’s longest standing hyperscaler partnership; with VMware Cloud on AWS the maturest of the multi-cloud offerings from VMware, having been available since August 2017. In October 2021, at VMworld, VMware announced general availability of VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts.
VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts is a fully managed service, as if it were in an AWS location, with consistent APIs. It is built on the same AWS-designed bare metal infrastructure using the AWS Nitro System, assembled into a dedicated rack, and then installed in the customer site ready to be plumbed into power and networking. The term Outpost is a logical construct that is used to pool capacity from 1 or more racks of servers.
The VMware SSDDC overlay, and hardware underlay, comprises of:
- VMware vSphere and vCenter for compute virtualisation and management
- VMware vSAN for storage virtualisation
- VMware NSX-T for network virtualisation
- VMware HCX for live migration of virtual machines with stretched Layer 2 capability
- 3-8 AWS managed dedicated Nitro-based i3.en metal EC2 instances with local SSD storage
- Non-chargeable standby node in each rack for service continuity
- Fully assembled standard 42U rack
- Redundant Top of Rack (ToR) data plane switches
- Redundant power conversion unit and DC distribution system (with support for redundant power feeds)
At the time of writing the i3.en metal is the only node type available with VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts. The node specification is as follows:
- 48 physical CPU cores, with hyperthreading enabled delivering 96 logical cores
- 768 GiB RAM
- 45.84 TiB (50 TB) raw capacity per host, delivering up to 40.35 TiB of usable storage capacity per host depending on RAID and FTT configuration
Both scale-out and multi-rack capabilities are currently not available, but are expected. It is also expected that the maximum node count will increase over time, check with your VMware or AWS teams for the most up to date information.
Once the rack is installed on-site, the customer is responsible for power, connectivity into the LAN, and environmental prerequisites such as temperature, humidity, and airflow. The customer is also responsible for the physical security of the Outpost location, however each rack has a lockable door and tamper detection features. Each server is protected by a removable and destroyable Nitro hardware security key. Data on the Outpost is encrypted both at-rest, and in-transit between nodes in the Outpost and back to the AWS region.
Inside the rack, all the hardware is managed and maintained by AWS and VMware, this includes things like firmware updates and failure replacements. VMware are the single support contact for the service regardless of whether the issue is hardware or software related. Additionally, VMware take on the lifecycle management of the full SDDC stack. Customers can run virtual machines using familiar tooling without having to worry about vSphere, vSAN, and NSX upgrades or security patches. Included in the cost ‘per node’ is all hardware within the rack, the VMware SDDC licensing, and the managed service and support.
Existing vCenter environments running vSphere 6.5 or later can be connected in Hybrid Linked Mode for ease of management. Unfortunately for consumers of Microsoft licensing, such as Windows and SQL, Outposts are still treated as AWS cloud infrastructure (in other words not customer on-premises).
Why VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts?
VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts provides a standardised platform with built-in availability and resiliency, continuous lifecycle management, proactive monitoring, and enhanced security. VMware Cloud on AWS delivers a developer ready infrastructure that can now be stood up in both AWS and customer locations in a matter of weeks. Using VMware Cloud on AWS, virtual machines can be moved bi-directionally across environments without the need for application refactoring or conversion.
The initial use case for VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts is existing VMware or VMware Cloud on AWS customers with workloads that must remain on-premises. This could be for regulatory and compliance reasons, or app/data proximity and latency requirements. As features and configurations start to scale, further use cases will no doubt become more prominent.
You can also use other AWS services with Outposts, however you have to make a decision on a per-rack basis whether you are running VMware Cloud on AWS for that rack, or native AWS services. The deployment of the rack is dedicated to one or the other.
VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts Network Connectivity
VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts requires a connection back to a parent VMware Cloud on AWS supported region, or more specifically an availability zone. Conceptually, you can think of the physical VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts installation as an extension of that availability zone. The connection back to AWS is used for the VMware Cloud control plane, also known as the service link.
The service link needs to be a minimum of 1Gbps with a maximum 150ms latency, either using a Direct Connect, or over the public internet using a VPN. Public Amazon Elastic IPs are used for the service link endpoint. Although the VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts service is not designed to operate in environments with limited or no connectivity, in the event of a service link outage the local SDDC will continue functioning as normal. This includes vCenter access and VM operations. A service link outage will prevent monitoring and access to configurations or other functionality from the VMware Cloud portal.
There is no charge for data transfer from VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts back to the connected region. Data transfer from the parent availability zone to the VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts environment will incur the standard AWS inter-AZ VPC data transfer charges.
Customers can use the connected VPC in the customer managed AWS account to access native AWS services in the cloud, either using the Elastic Network Interface (ENI) or VMware Transit Connect.
The Local Gateway (LGW) is an Outposts-specific logical construct used to route traffic to and from the existing on-premises network. This traffic stays within the local site allowing for optimised traffic flow and low latency communication. There is no data transfer cost for data traversing the LGW, either out to the internet or to your local network.
For more information on network connectivity and VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts in general, take a look at the AWS re:Invent 2021 session – A technical deep dive on VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts.
Getting Started with VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts
You can view a demo of the steps in the VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts: Order Flow video. At a high level, the process is as follows:
- Extensive workshops are carried out between VMware and/or AWS and the customer
- If the customer is a new VMware Cloud customer then a new org is created with a unique org ID
- Customer pre-req: a VMware Cloud account and org is required
- The customer receives an invite to join the VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts service through email
- The customer places an order via the VMware Cloud console
- Customer pre-req: customer AWS account with VPC and dedicated subnet, if using a private VIF for Direct Connect, then the VIF should already be created in the customer AWS account
- Customer pre-req: knowledge of the facility, power, and network setup*
- Customer pre-req: knowledge of desired instance count and configuration
- The customer receives and responds to the request to submit logical networking information
- This information will be gathered during the customer workshop, the service link requires a dedicated VLAN and /26 subnet, the SDDC management network requires a dedicated /23 minimum, and an additional CIDR block needs allocating for compute networks
- AWS schedule and carry out a site survey
- AWS builds and delivers the rack
- Final onsite provisioning is carried out by AWS and validated by VMware
- VMware notify the customer the environment is ready to use
- The SDDC is provisioned through automated workflows as instructed by the customer
*full details of the facility, power, and network requirements for the local site can be found in the AWS Outposts requirements page
The VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts solution brief provides more information, and you can find an overview, pricing, and FAQ section on the VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts solution page. AWS also have their own version of the VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts FAQ page.