VMware Sets Kubernetes Strategy for 2020

Now that VMware formally closed its acquisition of sister company Pivotal Software, an ambitious effort to extend its dominance of legacy IT environments into the realm of containers is now officially underway.

The VMware container strategy revolves around Kubernetes, a de facto container orchestration engine that once was—and still might prove to be—a potential threat to VMware, as some IT organizations are deploying Kubernetes on bare-metal servers as an alternative to virtual machines. For the most part, however, most of the early implementations of Kubernetes have been on top of virtual machines, which provide a layer of isolation between containerized applications running on the same physical machine.

VMware worked with Pivotal to develop a distribution of Kubernetes known as Pivotal Container Service, otherwise known as PKS. That distribution of Kubernetes provided IT teams a platform for running containerized applications that was tightly integrated with existing VMware management tools that many IT teams already use. As such, IT organizations that standardized on VMware did not have to acquire new tools or significantly retrain their IT staff to deploy Kubernetes clusters.

Pivotal, meanwhile, embraced PKS to provide its customers with a runtime platform for deploying applications built using the open source platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment developed under the auspices of the Cloud Foundry Foundation (CFF). The CFF is now in the process of migrating the Cloud Foundry PaaS to run on top of Kubernetes clusters as part of an effort to reduce the overall size of the PaaS environment.

VMware, however, determined there may be a much larger Kubernetes opportunity ahead. The company last fall launched VMware Tanzu, a cloud platform through which IT organizations will be able to manage any distribution of Kubernetes as well as build and deploy cloud-native applications built using containers.

Craig McLuckie, vice president of research and development for VMware, says VMware Tanzu is designed from the ground up to enable IT organizations to fully operationalize highly distributed instances of Kubernetes running from the network edge to the cloud and in between. Most recently, VMware launched a beta program for VMware Tanzu Mission Control and Project Pacific, an instance of an edge computing platform based on Kubernetes.

As part of that effort, VMware will also give IT organizations the option to build and deploy applications on Kubernetes using multiple development platforms, including an instance of the Cloud Foundry PaaS environment curated by Pivotal. The control plane VMware is employing to achieve that goal was developed by Heptio, which was co-founded by McLuckie and VMware acquired in the first half of 2019. McLuckie is also one of the co-founders of the Kubernetes project.

It remains to be seen not just how many Kubernetes clusters will be deployed on virtual machines versus bare metal servers. In fact, there’s a whole emerging class of lighter-weight open source virtual machines that provide a layer of isolation between containerized applications that eliminate the need to rely on legacy virtual machine platforms such as vSphere. Of course, there’s nothing stopping VMware from embracing lighter-weight virtual machines alongside existing VMware virtual machines.

Regardless of the path chosen forward, however, the one thing that is apparent is 2020 is about to become the most “pivotal” in the history of the company.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.

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