At the VMworld 2016 conference last week, it became clear that VMware is pursuing two container strategies that are both dependent on its NSX software-defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization (NV) software. These strategies call for integrating both Photon OS and its vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC) with NSX for containers.
Built on top of the VMware ESXi hypervisor, Photon OS is a lightweight Linux host that wraps a single common application programming interface (API) around compute, storage and networking services such as NSX to make the entire environment programmable, said Paul Fazzone, general manager for cloud native apps at VMware. At the VMworld earlier this month, VMware announced that Photon now supports both NSX and the Kubernetes container orchestration framework.
At the same time, VMware continues to invest in VMware vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC), a portable container orchestration engine that VMware built specifically to extend VMware vSphere into the realm of containers. In a VMware vSphere environment, networking, compute and storage are all addressed via their own dedicated interfaces. As NSX and the rest of the VMware portfolio finds its way into public cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, VIC will come along for the proverbial ride in a way that make it possible to deploy both virtual machines and containers across a multi-cloud computing environment.
NSX for Containers as a Hedge
VMware is trying to hedge against the rapid rise of microservices architecture running containers. In production environments today the majority of containers are actually deployed on top of VMware vSphere. The primary reason for this is that most enterprise IT organizations don’t have the tooling in place to manage containers using platforms such as Docker.
But there’s also a case to be made for deploying containers as a lighter weight virtualization alternative to a virtual machine. Vendors such as Docker are rapidly building out a range of services, including networking, that IT organizations can employ to manage containers anywhere they run, including both bare metal servers and on top of virtual machines.
At the other end of the spectrum, vendors such as Mirantis are working with Google and Intel to port the entire OpenStack framework on top of the Kubernetes container orchestration engine to provide the tooling needed to manage containers.
Are Containers and VMs Complementary?
In contrast, Fazzone says VMware is making a case of using existing virtualization investments to abstract IT infrastructure in a way that most enterprises have already implemented. Whether that involves running containers on top of Photon or VMware vSphere, Fazzone says IT organizations do not want to wind up supporting multiple type of IT infrastructure platforms to run existing virtual machines and containers.
“A lot of the container vendors for their own reasons are trying to reinvent what’s already been done,” says Fazzone. “When it comes between choosing between implementing new infrastructure and extending existing investments to support containers I like our chances.”
Matt Eastwood, an industry analyst with International Data Corp. (IDC), says that’s a sound strategy assuming the people making those decisions are willing to consider VMware. All too often the container infrastructure decisions these days are being made by developers working outside the traditional IT department, says Eastwood.
“A lot of these developers don’t have any vSphere orientation,” says Eastwood. “VMware is essentially competing with a lot of open source technologies they tend to be more familiar with.”
When all is said and done it may very well come down to the degree to which IT operations that have invested in VMware technologies are capable of disabusing developers of those notions that ultimately determines just relevant VMware is likely to remain.