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Choosing the right cloud management platform is becoming an important decision as organizations increasingly embrace cloud management to speed the delivery of IT services through automation. Organizations need to strike a balance between the capabilities a leading cloud management platform can deliver and the capabilities that will need to be customized and delivered through custom code.

This article explores what VMware's latest cloud automation tool releases mean for your organization. It also touches on the considerations you'll want to keep in mind to find the right balance between cloud management platform features and custom development, so you can extract full value from your automation platform.

The future of cloud automation

The future of vRealize Automation (vRA), VMware's market-leading cloud automation tool and management platform, is vRA 8 and vRA Cloud.

Worldwide IT Automation and Configuration Management Software Share Snapshot (2017)

Worldwide IT Automation and Configuration Management Software Share Snapshot (2017)

With these new releases, VMware customers have a meaningful choice to make between on-prem and software-as-a-service (SaaS) automation platforms. They also face a related decision between using the traditional vRealize Orchestrator (vRO) development methodology and the new Action Based eXtensibility (ABX) method.

Whether you're just beginning to shop for cloud management platforms, you're ready to implement or fully optimize a recently purchased version of vRA, or you're currently using vRA 7 and evaluating migration to vRA 8 or  vRA Cloud  — WWT is here to help.

vRA 8 and vRA cloud refresher

In your next migration, you must decide whether to migrate to vRA version 8 or vRA Cloud.

As the latest full release announced at VMworld 2019, vRA 8 will be initially available in version 8.0 (with 8.1 on the horizon). For a full refresher of the benefits and features of vRA, I'll point you to VMware's website. If you've read this far, let's assume you understand the basics.

vRA Cloud, available today, is one of three relatively new automation-focused cloud service offerings from VMware. vRA Cloud is a multicloud provisioning service, meaning it can be used to program the delivery of IT services in environments with various combinations of private and public cloud, which should be of great help to development and DevOps teams.

From the start, it's important to understand vRA Cloud SaaS model is not designed to replace any capabilities available through the vRealize Suite. Because vRA 8 and vRA Cloud have different capabilities and feature release dates, choosing the right tool will depend on individual and customer use cases.

For example, while each release shares the same code base, the way code is updated for each option differs. vRA Cloud can potentially receive updates every two weeks while the vRA 8 will roll up those same updates for release every six months.

Two dev options: vRO and ABX

Currently, vRA 7.X uses vRealize Orchestrator (vRO) as its extensibility and development option. Hundreds of OEMs have created plug-ins to facilitate integration between vRA and their products.

I've always told my customers that to be successful with vRA, you need to learn vRO. And to learn vRO, you need a basic foundation in JavaScript, the best language for vRO development workflows.

With vRA Cloud and vRA 8, VMware has also built in to the framework Action Based eXtensibility (ABX), giving you a second development option. Kaloyan Kolev of VMware has a great blog on this subject, so I won't go into the details. But what you need to know is you can use Node.js or Python today to develop your scripts with ABX.

If you're familiar with AWS Lambda, you'll recognize that ABX was modeled after it. PowerShell and Bash are also on VMware's roadmap, with the goal of giving them language parity with Lambda. To run ABX on-prem, you'll need a way to run Serverless functions, available as an OVA download or through OpenFaaS (Functions as a Service).

What should I do first?

Evaluate existing development methodology

Before comparing features and functionalities of different cloud management platforms, we recommend first taking a moment to assess your existing development strategy and architecture.

As we've mentioned before, organizations typically have three main options for enabling and integrating cloud automation tools like vRA:

  • In-House: Leverage internal IT engineers to develop a custom code.
  • Outsource: Hire an outside subcontractor to develop a custom code.
  • Third Party: Select a proven third-party solution from the marketplace and layer custom code on top — either internally or through a trusted partner.

In creating development strategies, customers typically need to compare and contrast the overall risk and time-to-value of each option. Factors to weigh include the level of customization required, the cost of man hours, the cost of workforce training and education, and the level of support offered.

We're always happy to help review your development strategies and architecture. Just connect with us for a Cloud Automation Workshop or executive briefing.

Custom coded?

While relying on out-of-the-box cloud management platform features is an easy and attractive option, many enterprise customers will eventually want additional features that address deeper use cases. This can lead customers down the path of creating and maintaining custom code.

In assessing your current dev strategy, have you custom coded everything? If so, you'll have some work to do.

In a migration, you'll need to reevaluate existing code to determine which will go under ABX and which will remain under vRO. Regardless of which option you choose — vRA 8 or vRA Cloud — be prepared to rewrite any workflows or plug-ins that use the vRA Café, as the underlying architecture is completely different. Your ultimate goal should be to move all code into ABX eventually.

Another key consideration to be aware of is not all existing vRA 7 features will be immediately available in vRA 8.0. For example, it's not likely that current level role-based access and entitlements will be built into version 8.0. Depending on the features released in 8.0, which is still being written, some customers may find it beneficial to wait for vRA version 8.1.

As a trusted advisor to our customers, we do not advise customers to wait for feature parity between vRA 7 and vRA 8 or vRA Cloud. Rather, we'll help you take advantage of what you own today, give you the quickest time-to-value and provide a path forward to fulfill your specific use case when vRA 8 is ready.

WWT is currently developing a vRA 8 Migration Assessment capability in our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) to evaluate your current vRA environment and investigate which vRO workflows will need to be rewritten. This service will take your current vRA configuration and come up with a design that fits into the new vRA 8.X/Cloud framework. We'll also develop and provide a migration strategy deliverable outlining the most successful path forward.

What about third-party modules?

Value of SovLabs

Customers often turn to third-party modules like SovLabs when they don't want to use in-house or outsourced resources to create custom code for their cloud management platform solution.

As a general rule, the more custom coding it takes to make a solution whole, the more brittle and difficult it becomes to support and scale that solution over time. I know this from personal experience and have customers who've experienced the same.

SovLabs tackles this issue head on, bridging the gap by simplifying complex platform and endpoint integration scenarios without compromising functionality. Their ability to deliver scalable, quality-tested integrations in a software-driven framework that easily "plug in" to vRA is a no-brainer for customers.

With several joint success stories under our belt, WWT can attest to the long-term impact of customers who have used SovLabs to lower administrative overhead, reduce complexity, improve their support posture and successfully move between major cloud management platform versions with ease.

As an elite SovLabs partner, we've seen SovLabs' roadmap and are impressed with how they're approaching upgrade and migration scenarios for existing vRA 7 customers. Their approach allows customers to consume complex integrations (automation policies) simultaneously between instances and versions of vRA and beyond in codeless fashion.

Using a third party like SovLabs can help you get the most out of your investment and avoid issues like coding silos (i.e., untested/unsupported coding, scripting or workflow development that promotes various IT partitions) and labor lock-in (i.e., pouring money into the continual maintenance of custom code by a limited number of skilled experts).

As vRA 8 matures and VMware releases all frameworks and APIs to customers, partners and the vendor ecosystem, we look forward to helping customers determine the best path forward for cloud migration using best-of-breed technologies paired with WWT's proven expertise and consultative approach.

Why engage WWT?

ATC plus SovLabs

What sets WWT apart from competitors in this space is our ATC lab environment, a collaborative ecosystem where customers can explore how VMware products, like the vRealize Suite, fit into integrated architectural solutions that further accelerate digital transformation.

As a VMware National Premier Partner, we're a leading provider of advanced virtualization, end user computing and cloud computing solutions. Through our VMware partnership, we help organizations optimize their IT environments from the desktop to the data center to the cloud.

In fact, WWT — in partnership with SovLabs — is the only VMware partner with the capability to fully automate vRA 7, giving you the quickest time-to-value as well as providing a migration plan. In our estimation, SovLabs is simply the best third-party option on the market today to deploy vRA.

We've incorporated SovLabs' common framework for extending vRA and other VMware Cloud Automation Services into our ATC lab environment.

Check out our Cloud Automation and vRA IPAM Integrations workshops, then reach out to your WWT Account Manager to learn more about our cloud migration capabilities and services.