Are Containers a first class citizen in the enterprise

VMware have recently finished their annual VMworld conference. One of their major announcements was that of Project Pacific. This is VMware’s biggest vSphere announcement since the the introduction of their ESXi product back in 2007.

What are containers to Project Pacific?

Project Pacific is effectively a complete rewrite of vSphere to become a Kubernetes deployment engine. What this effectively means is that VMware have made Containers first-class citizens on their platform. Yes it is true that VMware has supported containers in the past, firstly with VMware VIC (Virtual Integrated Containers) then later with VMware PKS (Pivotal Container Service), but these have been very much add-ons to their core product, and seen as an adjunct to Virtual Machines rather than as a fully paid up member of the enterprise club.

Project Pacific
,  VMware move to be an Application platform (copyright VMware)

VMware have struggled with Containers, chiefly because at their enterprise tipping point they were seen as the more valid answer to the then current issues that enterprises needed solving over fledgling container technology from Unix Vendors like Sun MicroSystems (bought by Oracle) with their Solaris Zones product.

When Docker arrived on the scene in 2010, VMware saw them as a niche technology and were blindsided by their quick adoption in enterprise development, and the eventual rise of the cloud native applications. Further to this their response historically to Containers has been to treat them as if they are microVM’s, rather than a distinct entity with differing approaches to building and operating them. This has led to VMware-based containers historically not preforming very well compared to container engines loaded directly onto bare metal.

This will all change with the re-write of ESXi which will integrate Kubernetes directly into the control plane of the hypervisor coupled with the ability to manage it directly from already existing VMware tools and their associated ecosystem. Containers are now first class citizens together with Virtual Machines.

Project Tanzu and the container revolution

Project Pacific is coupled with their announcement of Project Tanzu, which is how VMware intends to integrate all the tools acquired from their Pivotal and Bitmani into a single application-focused platform. Tanzu is how application developers who use containers can have a stable on-site platform to develop, coupled with a coherent delivery platform. This will help drive the adoption of cloud native applications.

Project Tanzu
Project Tanzu, the Glue that binds containers to VMware

IaaS and even PaaS are just building blocks of the Application, control the engine of modern cloud-native application delivery and you own the market. On-prem enterprise environments are here for way past the foreseeable future, this is why Azure, with Azure Stack and AWS with Outpost are moving in the opposite direction: from public to private.

Where VMware have an advantage over AWS, and GCP in this environment is that they already know and understand locally installed infrastructure, they also have powerful relationships with AWS and Microsoft and Google, together with their own ecosystem of VMware Verified Cloud providers based on vCloud Director. A single management platform to deliver monitor and manage to lifecycle of applications and legacy environments is a very powerful proposition.

Summary

If VMware pulls this digital transformation of their core platform off without too much disruption to their core base, they will be in a very strong position to become Sauron’s ring.  Their relationships with the majority of major global cloud providers, and also those more focused on niche markets based on vCloud Director will allow them an almost unrivaled reach.  Just in the same way that tech pundits wrote off Microsoft and have been surprised with their turn-around in the Nadalla years, VMware have been have been quietly undergoing a similar transformation under Gelsinger.  This after their false dawn with vCloud Air, could just be the thing that makes VMware relevant for the next 10 years.