VMware And Kubernetes: More Than Just A Defensive Play

At first, VMware’s embrace of Kubernetes – several times in several different ways over several years – has a whiff of desperation about it. Kubernetes has been exploding in growth at the expense of the traditional virtualized applications that VMware has built its business upon. Kubernetes is nothing less than an existential threat to the company.

But to call VMware’s Kubernetes support, launched earlier this week, a desperation play is an oversimplification. VMware is going far beyond mere support and making Kubernetes a full citizen of VMware-based datacenters. It is turning VMware’s long legacy – which might otherwise have been a weakness – into a strength.

VMware wants to take the lead in helping enterprises implementing Kubernetes. Those enterprises have special needs, with decades of existing infrastructure, much of which is built on VMware’s software. The mix would combine the agility of new technology with the maturity, security, stability and reliability of enterprise-class data centers.

In other words, VMware isn’t just changing its appearance to try to blend in with the young people.

VMware’s Kubernetes support comprises three big areas:

  • The Tanzu Portfolio, aimed at developers of modern applications.
  • VMware Cloud Foundation 4, which allows enterprises to run virtualized – and now, containerized – applications on-premises, and on major public clouds including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google, Oracle, IBM, and Alibaba. Cloud Foundation includes compute, network and storage.
  • And vSphere 7, which provides the compute component of Cloud Foundation, and which as the name suggests has been the foundation of VMware’s business for more than a decade.

The new strategy – “to help customers modernize their applications and infrastructure,” as VMware puts it – is designed to help traditional enterprises become as agile as cloud-native businesses. “None of the traditional enterprises want to be disrupted out of business, like Sears was,” Pete Chargin, senior director of vSphere product marketing at VMware, tells The Next Platform.

To blame traditional enterprise difficulties on containerization by startups is a vast oversimplification. Incumbent businesses are threatened by management errors, macroeconomic changes, and investors pouring billions of dollars into startups like Uber and Airbnb.

Still, IT agility can certainly be a big help in making businesses more competitive. No IT manager ever gets up in the morning and says: “Gosh, I wish my datacenter were more difficult to maintain and reconfigure.” And if the scary boogey-monster of Uber and Airbnb can help you convince your CEO/CFO/COO that they need to invest big bucks in re-architecting your datacenter around containers – a change that will, in fact, pay the business back in increased agility – well, we won’t call you on your enlightened exaggeration.

VMware Pushes Back

Is VMware’s Kubernetes strategy designed just to keep existing VMware customers from straying? That’s an oversimplification, says Chargin. “Almost every company is a VMware customer,” he says. Moreover, elements of Tanzu will appeal to companies that are not currently using vSphere, Chargin adds.

In particular, Kubernetes Grid – a Tanzu component – is a custom Kubernetes implementation that can be deployed not just on vSphere, but also on the public cloud. Tanzu Mission Control manages applications on-premises and in public cloud with a unified interface, says Krish Prasad, senior vice president and general manager for vSphere.

With Tanzu, enterprises can run applications that take advantage of the special capabilities of individual public cloud providers – or multiple individual cloud providers – while continuing to support on-premises apps, and support them all with unified interfaces, Chargin says. “The people are the same, monitoring and automation is the same,” he says. “Reducing to a single technology stack will make a huge difference to organizations’ ability to remain agile,” he says.

And the Tanzu Application Catalog provides access to open source applications that have been curated for maturity and overall enterprise-readiness. The catalog is based on Bitnami, which VMware acquired last year.

Additionally, VMware has in-house expertise, notably Craig McLuckie, VMware VP R&D, and Joe Beda, VMware principal engineer. McLuckie and Beda were among the co-founders of Kubernetes, which gives VMware considerable Kubernetes street cred. McLuckie and Beda also co-founded Heptio, which VMware acquired for $550 million in 2018.

Additionally, VMware’s in-house expertise includes Pivotal Labs, part of VMware’s $2.7 billion acquisition of acquired by VMware along with Pivotal Software, closed this year.

Supporting Kubernetes with vSphere brings enterprise expertise to Kubernetes applications. Thousands of vSphere admins are “suddenly able to support Kubernetes and Kubernetes applications,” Prashad says.

VMware faces tough competition in its Kubernetes enterprise strategy. Hyperscalers and cloud builders such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are all beefing up their internal enterprise resources and working with teams of partners to add enterprise support. Microsoft has used that kind of partnership strategy to dominate the enterprise landscape for more than a quarter century. IBM is pursuing a strategy similar to VMware’s, marrying public cloud and Kubernetes expertise with broad enterprise abilities and customer relationships. For a while, IBM had difficulty gaining traction there, perceived in the market as an unsuccessful Amazon competitor and pursuing the pipe dreams of Watson and blockchain, which have yielded little market traction. But more recently, IBM has been singing loudly about its enterprise hybrid cloud strengths, and last year’s $34 billion Red Hat acquisition and new CEO will help the strategy along.

Making the competitive landscape more complicated: VMware is partnering with the big cloud providers, and IBM as well.

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