Kubernetes: VMware’s Bridge to the Future

In fusing vSphere with Kubernetes, the company promises IT ops and developers the best of both worlds.

Paul Ferrill

August 30, 2019

3 Min Read
Kubernetes: VMware’s Bridge to the Future
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger (left) on stage at VMworld 2019 with Joe Beda, a principal engineer at VMware and one of the three original creators of Kubernetes.VMware

VMware made it very clear this week at VMworld that it’s betting its future on Kubernetes.

The ball started rolling, at least in public, the week prior to the conference, when the company announced it would acquire Pivotal and its Kubernetes-based Pivotal Container Service (PKS). PKS and associated tooling have been available on VMware’s cloud service for some time and has been a key component of its hybrid cloud story.

The biggest announcement at VMworld 2019 in San Francisco was Project Pacific, which marries Kubernetes with vSphere, VMware’s flagship suite of data center virtualization software. Every session with Project Pacific in the title was packed, and VMware employees made it clear that this is the most significant move by VMware in a very long time.

Best of Both Worlds

One of the biggest challenges facing every corporate IT shop today is upgrading existing applications in a way that best takes advantage of the container and microservices trends in software development, an approach often referred to as “cloud-native.” Multiple VMware customers got on stage at VMworld to talk about their specific challenges, and how they were utilizing these new trends to cut both costs and time to production for new applications.

With Project Pacific, VMware promised, you won’t have to rip and replace an entire VMware infrastructure to get into Kubernetes, the leading container-orchestration system developed at Google, which open sourced it in 2015. The Project Pacific strategy is to give IT operations Kubernetes that can be managed with a familiar set of tools in vCenter and policy-based automation that’s available now from VMware. The project uses Kubernetes’ extensibility model to allow for simultaneous execution of both normal vSphere VM-based workloads and fully managed container-based applications.

Related:VMware Embarks on Its Crown Jewel’s Biggest Rearchitecture in a Decade

Application Focus

Developing cloud-native applications in today’s environment typically involves the use of container-based microservices that can be provisioned, scaled up or down, and killed on-demand. Application needs are what’s driving VMware into the Kubernetes world, and Project Pacific goals include giving developers self-service APIs for provisioning resources for their apps, so they don’t have to go the usual route of requesting them from IT.

While it has been possible to provision a Kubernetes cluster on top of vSphere for quite some time, the process has been more than a little complicated. VMware introduced Project Bonneville back in 2015 as a way to provision and run container-based applications within the vSphere environment. It was based on a customized Docker daemon which could in theory run any host OS, since it was based on a VM architecture. vSphere Integrated Containers was the productized version of Project Bonneville and became generally available in the end of 2016.

Related:VMware Wants to Be Your Single Platform for All Clouds

Just Make It Work

VMware’s stated goal is to give IT admins the same experience using Kubernetes as they have today managing vSphere. Based on the demos and sessions at VMworld 2019, the company’s engineers are well on their way to making that happen.

If they pull it off, the achievement will be significant. Complexity has been the biggest complaint about using Kubernetes in production. The new services-based architecture requires management of a large number of containers.

VMware brings to the table a wide range of tried and true management tools and features for policy-based access and control. It’s also publicly committed to full participation in the open-source Kubernetes project and to pushing changes it makes back to the community.

The beauty of Kubernetes is its built-in extensibility, which makes it possible to incorporate it into the VMware ecosystem without a ton of changes to the core system. This will make the transition to a Kubernetes world much easier for existing VMware customers and attract new ones, who are looking for a stable platform to build upon.

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