Thursday, March 3, saw the simply brilliant folks at AWS shuffle another tantalizing step closer to persuading an Enterprise to move VMs to their burgeoning EC2 platform by making it as simple as taking candy from a baby.
Say hello to the “EC2 VM Import Connector”.
Immediately following the announcement, that broke, as usual, via an effortless tweet from AWS’ Jeff Barr, I played out a hundred possible use cases for this new tool and what it may mean to Enteprises. For a brief period, the twitterverse was alive with “what ifs” and “can its” and after some excellent twexchanges between folks who are far more knowledgeable than I, it began to become pretty clear that this is yet another smart move in the wave of smart moves that AWS are making as they actively coax Enterprises to come join the public cloud revolution.
Here’s what we know:
- VM Import isn’t exactly brand new. It was first made available last year, but via CLI only.
- The new GUI tool is available as a vApp (OVF) plug-in for vmware vCenter.
- Only Windows Server 2008 SP2 is supported (no mention of 2008 R2 yet).
- VM must have a single virtual hard drive no larger than 1TB (but multiple partitions are ok).
- Allows separate AWS credentials to be stored for each vCenter user so that multiple users
- The imported VM is stored as an EBS instance in a “stopped state”. This is really cool for two reasons. Firstly, you are not charged for stopped instance hours and you will only incur charges for your Amazon EBS volumes while your instance is stopped, allowing you to reduce your Amazon EC2 costs when you do not need your instances running and secondly because you can then launch the instance in either the “normal” EC2 environment or your VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) environment, if you have one.
- It incurs bandwidth charges (hmm, whodda thunk?) to move your VM image(s) from your vSphere to EC2. As an example, importing a 10 GB VMware image of Windows Server 2008 would amount to $1 for data transfer (or $0.10 per GB x 10 GB data transfer in). Not the end of the world, I suppose.
What we don’t know :
- Is the vApp (OVF) construct supported as a mechanism to upload multiple VM images from vSphere ?
- When will the capability be there to do “VM Export” thereby giving freedom to add / remove VMs “at will” ?
- When will other operating systems (Ubuntu being a favorite) be supported by the tool(s) ?
- Will there ever be support for other source hypervisors (I’m looking at you, XenServer / XenCenter) ?
- When will the provision exist to allow direct connectivity from EC2 to VPC *
- Do AWS have plans to “do a CloudSwitch” and provide overlay networking **
* I ask this as a somewhat loaded question.
One of the primary use cases I settled on for VM Import, somewhat unsurprisingly, is Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity. The option of having the equivalent of snapshots of my on-prem VMs available in EC2, ready and waiting to be spun up to save my business is compelling, but unfortunately, some of those applications wouldn’t function correctly without being able to be part of a logically extended private network.
If I am not mistaken, accessing my VPC today from outside my core network requires me to use my own edge access mechanism to do so. That’s sort of OK until I have a problem. In the case of VM Import, I could quickly spin up my stopped instances and even configure a new VPC from another physical location, but if I no longer have the edge access mechanism, I’m dead in the water.
Close, but no cigar.
** I also ask this as a somewhat loaded question.
Recently and quite ironically, AWS’ march of innovation has taken them to places where they have found themselves in direct competition with other startups offerings (some of who run their businesses on AWS). This has drawn, in my opinion, some unfair criticism of AWS’ approach.
An interesting question posed to me by Chris Hoff, shortly after my excited twitter rant, was “why would you choose the VM Import tool over the more feature rich product offered by CloudSwitch?”. Great question indeed. There is no doubt that CloudSwitch and other solutions such as CohesiveFT’s VPN Cubed provide a much richer alternative and I hadn’t really considered them as like-for-like solutions until I started to think about this excerpt from Jeff Barr’s original announcment:
As is always the case with AWS, we started out with a core feature (VM Import) and are now adding additional capabilities to it. Still on the drawing board (but getting closer every day) are additional features such as VM Export (create a virtual machine image from an EC2 instance or AMI), support for additional image formats and operating systems.
The interesting bit is “we are now adding additional capabilities to it”. Hmmm. What are they ? AWS’ is notoriously guarded on features, plans or roadmaps, so it’s likely we won’t know what the additional capabilities are until we see one of Jeff’s now-famous midnight tweets, but might they be the kinds of overlay networks found in the products from Cloudswitch and CohesiveFT which once again puts AWS in the territory of other startups in this space ?
Perhaps, but that’s life in the cloud.
Whatever happens, this is another great move by AWS. In the same way that the fictional Arthur Slugworth tried to unshamedly bribe the lucky recipients of a certain Mr Wonka’s benevolence, the introduction of this new tool could indeed be the Golden Ticket that makes the EC2 deal taste sweet for Enterprise administrators.