VMware sets sails for Kubernetes crowd

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This year’s VMworld started with a bang that gave a name to VMware’s new strategy to place it at the center of enterprise Kubernetes. VMware Tanzu is the company’s portfolio of products to facilitate the building and running of applications on Kubernetes, while also offering a single point of control to manage Kubernetes clusters across platforms and distributions.

One of the elements of Tanzu is Project Pacific, which will amongst other things enable the re-use of Kubernetes API patterns to expose features of VMware’s vSphere. It does so by making use of a Supervisor Cluster built into vSphere which serves as a distributed systems kernel and API system. 

While this can be seen as vSphere running on Kubernetes, according to VMware’s principal engineer Joe Beda there are also efforts to make Kubernetes on vSphere a reality by what he calls Kubernetes Cluster Service. This is very early stages still but meant to help with the Kubernetes community’s idea of realising K8s management via K8s.

Apart from that Project Pacific introduces vSphere native Pods which will be hosted in lightweight virtual machines which run directly on VMware’s bare metal hypervisor ESXi. First and foremost those pods should improve performance. However, efficiency and security can also benefit from the new approach.

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Another part of the Tanzu portfolio is Tanzu Mission Control, an element to manage Kubernetes clusters across public clouds, managed services, vSphere, VMware PKS, and other packaged distributions. The product has just entered tech preview stage and supposedly provides customers with “a powerful, API driven platform that allows operators to apply policy to individual clusters or groups of clusters, establishing guardrails and freeing developers to work within those boundaries”.

Tanzu Mission Control uses an agent-based approach to integrate Kubernetes clusters with the control plane, leaving admins with a central access point to deploy, upgrade, scale, and delete cluster, as well as reinforce access policies, backup strategies and the like.

The news comes only shortly after VMware informed the world of its agreement to acquire Pivotal Software with the goal of building “the most comprehensive enterprise-grade Kubernetes-based portfolio for modern applications”. According to the press release, “the merger consideration represents an enterprise value for Pivotal of $2.7 billion”.

It almost feels like a homecoming of sorts, since the company was formed as a spin out of EMC Corporation and VMware in 2012. The companies also worked together to get VMware Enterprise PKS off the ground, one of VMware’s earlier forays into the Kubernetes world, meant to deliver “Kubernetes-based container services for multi-cloud enterprises and service providers”. Apart from that the organisations have a major shareholder in common, computer tech company Dell.

VMware’s move and the stated intent follow the trajectory started by the company’s recent purchases, which included Kubernetes heavy-weight Heptio back in November 2018 and packaging experts Bitnami in May 2019. The integration of Bitnami and Pivotal’s products as well as the close cooperation with the teams behind them are meant to open VMware to application developers. Pivotal’s Application Service and the Spring application framework they steward will surely become integral to the building part of Tanzu’s mission statement.

Craig McLuckie, one of the founders of Kubernetes and Heptio, commented on the Heptio acquisition last year with something that almost sounds like a foreshadowing of VMware’s new projects. “The missing piece is a control plane that shapes the experience in deploying and accessing cloud native technologies. It must address day 2 challenges, integrating technologies into a practical enterprise environment, and instituting policies and management capabilities.”

Joe Beda, another familiar face from the Kubernetes family and now principal engineer at VMware, wrote in a blog post that when he joined the company he had “no idea that all of this was in the works. I’ve been lucky to be able to work with the team to help refine and solidify the exciting ideas that were already being developed.” 

So let’s wait and see which of the technical preview features will make it into the final version of VMware’s new additions and take it from there. After years of “you’ve missed the container ship” it would be ironic to see the name you’d tend to associate with virtualisation become synonymous with containerisation.

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