Image: VMworld

In a report titled “Forecast Analysis: Enterprise Application Software, Worldwide, 2Q15 Update,” Gartner analysts highlighted the increasing trend of application modernization among enterprises. According to a recent survey, 45% of respondents stated that modernization of installed on-premises core enterprise applications is one of the top five priorities.

Gartner also predicted that by 2020, 75% of enterprise applications will follow the model of build instead of buy. This is an indication of organizations moving towards developing cloud-native, Software as a Service (SaaS) applications instead of buying shrink-wrapped or packaged applications.

The road to cloud-native computing

Going forward, enterprise customers will heavily invest in cloud-native platforms that will support them in developing and deploying modern, multi-tenant, elastic, and composite applications. Sensing this opportunity, traditional infrastructure vendors such as HP, Microsoft, VMware, and Red Hat started to invest in cloud-native platforms.

The recently formed Cloud Native Computing Foundation has almost every platform company except Microsoft. VMware and Pivotal are trying to stay relevant in the era of post-virtualization. Both VMware and Microsoft have significant investments in hypervisors and virtualization technology; interestingly, both have a similar approach to embrace and extend containerization.

At the recently held VMworld 2015 conference, VMware unveiled a set of new technologies that will enable customers to adopt the cloud-native paradigm while easily extending the legacy applications to containers. While Microsoft is pushing Windows Containers and Hyper-V Containers, VMware is betting on vSphere Integrated Containers and Photon Platform.

vSphere Integrated Containers

vSphere Integrated Containers brings the best of both worlds of virtual machines (VMs) and containers. Simply put, vSphere Integrated Containers are optimized VMs exposing the Docker API. This concept is a consolidation of a variety of technologies that VMware has introduced in the recent past.

Project Bonneville was announced in June 2015 as an approach to running containers on the hypervisor. Since each container runs in a dedicated VM, there are no restrictions to the software kernel and OS dependencies. It is possible to run any OS, including Microsoft Windows, inside a virtual container host. To drive this point across, VMware demonstrated running Prince of Persia, a 20-old MS-DOS game, running within a container.

Since each host is a VM, traditional tools like vRealize Operations Suite can be used to manage the hosts and the containers. VMware claims this model offers better security through stronger isolation. Host VMs will take advantage of mature technologies such as vSAN for storage and NSX and networking.

The company also brought Instant Cloning technology to vSphere Integrated Containers, which reduces the time it takes to create identical copies of running VMs. The preferred OS for running the container host is VMware’s minimalistic Linux OS called Photon.

Photon Platform

For organizations building cloud-native applications from the ground up, VMware recommends Photon Platform, which it calls as “a collection of technologies that provide infrastructure with just the features needed to securely run containerized applications, controlled by a massively scalable distributed management-plane with an API-first design approach.” It consists of two layers: Photon Machine and Photon Controller.

Photon Machine’s foundation is based on a mini-hypervisor called Microvisor. With strong roots in ESX, it is highly optimized for running containerized workloads. On top of it lies Photon OS, the lean and mean Linux OS exclusively designed to run containers.

Photon Controller is a distributed management plane that can rapidly scale. It exposes API and command line tools for integrating with CI/CD pipelines and DevOps workflows.

The Photon Platform can be integrated with Docker ecosystem tools such as Docker Swarm, Kubernetes, and Mesos. VMware and Pivotal delivered a turnkey cloud-native platform based on Cloud Foundry and Photon Platform.

Choosing the right platform for your enterprise

VMware has created each platform to address a particular enterprise scenario. Customers with legacy workloads and applications will consider vSphere Integrated Containers; it offers an easy path without forcing major refactoring of applications. Since the technology supports persistence and complex network topologies, existing applications can be containerized with the least disruption. Since the container ecosystem considers them containers and not VMs, they are interoperable with cloud-native applications.

Photon Platform is considered for deploying green field applications that are based on cloud-native principles. The collection can scale rapidly and deliver the agility and speed of modern, containerized applications.

Should you start investing in these technologies?

The best strategy is to wait and watch. VMware has no experience developing operating systems. Photon Platform is very new and may not be ready for the prime time. vSphere Integrated Containers offer a low-risk path to VMware’s containerization technology. Customers should carefully evaluate both the choices before investing in them.

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Decoding VMware's mysterious containerization strategy