Some of the tech industry's biggest and brightest companies, including Google and IBM, have taken to running software in containers, a kind of hyper-compressed way to package up an app and get it running at scale without relying on virtual machines or the software licenses to run and manage them. At the same time, buzz has been building around the OpenStack open source cloud project for years, with customers beginning to talk about replacing at least part of their VMware cloud infrastructure with free-as-in-beer code.
These things, understandably, have made VMware very nervous.
So it's both surprising and sensible that VMware used its first-day keynote session at this year's VMworld event in San Francisco to announce partnerships with the much-hyped open source container startup Docker, as well as the more established container players at Google and VMware spin-off Pivotal, to open the wide world of containerization to its many enterprise users. On the infrastructure side, VMware has issued its own distro of OpenStack with deeper hooks into the VMware architecture.
Details are still slim on the OpenStack front -- basically, we know it exists, but there's not much discussion on what would make it a compelling investment (of time, if not money) for an enterprise IT team looking to deploy a cloud platform, apart from the promise of strong interoperability with the rest of the VMware stack.
But on the container side, VMware has said quite a lot. Docker and VMware will bring support for the former's flagship Docker Engine to easily build and deploy containers from vSphere on-premises infrastructure to the newly-renamed VMware vCloud Air public cloud platform. Moreover, VMware has joined the Google-led Kubernetes community to bring support for the popular container management platform to vSphere. Pivotal comes into play for helping VMware bring container technology from Warden -- developed for VMware's own open source Cloud Foundry PaaS play -- into the Docker fold.
In addition to those very specific points on the technology roadmap, VMware has also committed to generally working to improve both Docker and Kubernetes as part of their communities. In return, VMware will push Docker and other container technologies at their customers.
"Not surprisingly, Docker’s enterprise IT customers have been making significant investments in VMware infrastructure for years across their application lifecycle environments, from developer laptops to QA servers to production data centers," writes Docker SVP Scott Johnston in a blog entry.
It's a bold move for VMware -- acknowledging that there's life outside the VM must be difficult for the company most associated with virtualization. VMware and OpenStack were long at odds -- the OpenStack community viewed VMware as kind of an evil empire, keeping enterprises shackled with high licensing costs and low portability.
Either way, VMware is talking a big game about enabling customers to run applications at scale, their way -- another announcement made today sees VMware join the Open Compute Project, committing to make their converged hardware solutions compliant with their standards.
Next-level mobile apps require next-level infrastructure. If VMware can't beat the open source upstarts at helping IT departments get there, it'll certainly join them.