VMware deepened its dalliance with Kubernetes, launching a hosted software version of the container orchestrator targeted at enterprise customers. The move mimics those made by a handful of companies over the past several months and braces VMware against the possible long-term threat posed by Kubernetes.
Bill Shelton, vice president of product management at VMware, said the VMware Kubernetes Engine (VKE) is a fully managed service offered through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. This allows customers to consume Kubernetes without the need to get their hands dirty with the deployment and operation of Kubernetes clusters.
“We provide the ability for the customer to set up a cluster but not have to worry about capacity planning,” Shelton said. “We manage all of that ourselves. As the customer deploys more apps to a given cluster it will expand automatically to accommodate.”
The platform includes a user interface that comes with defaults embedded to speed up the deployment process. Customers can also fine tune those defaults to mirror their needs or growing familiarity with the platform.
“The operating model is that we will get those clusters up and running for you by hook or crook,” Shelton said. “We will make sure its fully available for you.”
As part of that model, VKE uses VMware’s Smart Clusters, which are an abstraction of Kubernetes clusters managed by VKE that automate the selection of compute resources to optimize usage and cost. They also include policies that capture the desired state of a fully compliant Kubernetes cluster. It takes the policies and continuously evaluates the security, health, and size of the Kubernetes clusters and manages any found deviations.
Shelton said the VKE service also helps with deployment and scaling that more closely aligns with actual resource usage as a way to control costs. It also allows enterprises to avoid having to hire specialized workers to handle their Kubernetes plans.
VKE is also part of VMware’s previously launched Cloud Services platform. That platform is a portfolio of several different SaaS products focused on different elements of operations across cloud environments. VKE specifically integrates with the Wavefront monitoring and analytics tool, which VMware bought last year.
VKE will initially be limited for use on Amazon Web Services (AWS). This follows the launch of VMware’s Cloud on AWS platform announced last year. That deal allows VMware customers to run their workloads in the AWS public cloud using the same VMware software stack.
Shelton said VMware will add support on Microsoft Azure in the future but it is not ready to announce any further cloud expansion plans.
VMware’s deeper Kubernetes integration comes as the container orchestration platform begins to encroach onto the vendor’s VM business.
Dan Kohn, executive director of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), recently said the group is focused on seeing if Kubernetes could replace OpenStack and VMware as the basis for cloud-native infrastructure.
Kohn admitted that the focus was still in its early stages, but that CNCF might make some of those plans more public at the upcoming Open Source Summit North America event. That event is scheduled for late August in Vancouver, British Columbia.
VMware is a member of CNCF, which houses the Kubernetes project.
Analysts have also noted that VMware could be challenged long term by the growing use of containers.
“We believe VMware continues to underplay the container movement,” said Gregg Moskowitz, managing director and senior research analyst at Cowen & Company in a recent report. “The good news for VMware is that we think most organizations will initially deploy containers within a vSphere environment. That should enable them to navigate the container threat over the medium term. Nevertheless, there is some long-term risk for vSphere in our view.”
Two of VMware’s most direct rivals have also recently adopted a managed Kuberneted model.
Docker Inc. in April officially updated its Enterprise Edition platform with native Kubernetes support. While Red Hat earlier this year acquired CoreOS, which has Kubernetes expertise as a way to bolster its OpenShift container platform.
However, analysts have noted that many enterprises are likely to run their initial container deployments on virtual machines (VMs) due to convenience and familiarity. This should provide VMware with a business angle because it could convert current vSphere customers to its VKE package.
“I think it’s a good offering from VMware and adds more choice for companies, especially those who are aligned to VMware on-premises,” said Edwin Yuen, senior analyst for cloud at Enterprise Strategy Group.
Yuen did question the depth of differences between VKE and other hosted and managed Kubernetes services, and “why companies should potentially choose one over the other.”
“There some basic differences, such as running on GCP vs. AWS or Azure, but if cross-cloud independence is an key attribute of using [Kubernetes} and upstream [Kubernetes], then why all the different offerings,” Yuen stated.
Shelton did explain that VKE does differs from the VMware-backed Pivotal Container Service (PKS) that was launched last fall in partnership with Google and Pivotal. That platform is a self-managed Kubernetes container service that runs on VMware’s vSphere and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Customers can deploy and operate Kubernetes clusters regardless of where is PKS is deployed on either private or public clouds.
Shelton described vSphere and PKS as being based “on more traditional VMware delivery models.” VKE, by contrast, is a pure SaaS service that is available only on public clouds.
VMware is set to announce update to that platform later this week.