The next big evolution of VMware vSphere platform will integrate Kubernetes

VMware as a company is looking at how they can serve all the needs of customers in the cloud era, which involves everything from VMware on AWS to essentially helping enterprises embrace modern ways of writing applications.

Last year, VMware acquired Kubernetes’ parent company Heptio. A few months ago, they announced plans to deeply integrate and embed Kubernetes into the next version of vSphere. This is being considered as the biggest evolution of vSphere in the last decade.

Kubernetes isn’t something new as far as container orchestration is concerned. The open source software has tremendous potential, given its capabilities of automating application deployment, scaling and management. Despite that, the software is yet to reach widespread deployment even after so many years. Things however are set to change very fast with VMware’s acquisition of Kubernetes.

Joe Beda, the co-founder of Kubernetes, who is now with VMware, tells us how the tech is being made more consumable, approachable, and democratized for enterprises. Excerpts…

DQ: Where has VMware reached on Project Pacific?

Joe Beda: There’s no timeline announced yet. It’s a technology project at this point and a fascinating effort because Kubernetes is useful for customers running their applications and also a useful technology to build vSphere on top of. So, we’re building Kubernetes into vSphere to add features into it even for those who may not care much about containers or building modern applications. It becomes a key enabling technology for future enhanced versions of vSphere. It also enables us to offer a first-class experience for running Kubernetes on top of vSphere, making it easier for customers to manage their clusters and infra. Along the way, we’re creating APIs and tools where users can manage containers and VMs using the same toolsets. So they actually have the same view across both containers and VM clusters. Another part of Project Pacific is changing core virtualization so that it’s optimized for running Kubernetes workloads. It’s starting to blur the lines between containers and VMs, bringing all of our expertise around efficiency and security into the container world.

DQ: Considering that containers have been a competition to VMs, why have the two suddenly come together and what are VMware’s plans for it?

Joe Beda: It didn’t happen suddenly but has been in the process for a while. VMware as a company is looking at how they can serve all the needs of customers in the cloud era, which involves everything from VMware on AWS to essentially helping enterprises embrace modern ways of writing applications. So, at a technical level, containers and VMs work well together, and are complimentary. I think they’re key technologies and the workflow enabled by Kubernetes really enables enterprises to ship applications faster, more reliably, and securely. We’re trying to help our customers achieve their business goals through these technologies.

DQ: There’s a fundamental difference between containers and VMs wherein the former doesn’t have any OS overhead, unlike in VMs where it consumes more memory. How will the two work together?

Joe Beda: There’s an opportunity where you run containers in a VM, but the cost of running that OS gets amortized across a bunch of containers and you can have more fine-grained trade-offs between containers that are rerunning on that virtual host. But with these vSphere native pods, which is integrated tech that’s built into ESX and part of project pacific, we are looking at how to hyper optimize that VM to reduce that OS overhead and provide the best of both worlds in terms of security, all of VMware’s deep experience around getting the best performance out of VMs and bring that into the container world.

Some of the early results of running code with Pacific show that as compared to running Kubernetes on traditional VMs, these vSphere native pods can run up to 30% faster. And compared to running Kubernetes on bare metal, our virtualized infra because of VMware’s expertise in getting the most of hardware, can run up to 8% faster than bare metal. That’s an exciting result and the depth of expertise that VMware brings to this world.

DQ: Will containers also run on VMs or will they run on their own physical infra?

Joe Beda: We want to make sure your container and VM infra should be fluid in terms of trading off resources. We don’t want customers to have strict segmentation. When folks modernize applications, they may have to shift applications VMs into containers and we want to give that fluidity.

DQ: Any specific enterprises you see adopting it earlier than others?  Any specific use cases you’re like to highlight that customers can feel excited about?

Joe Beda: We’re going through the process right now of finding those early engagements of enterprises that we can partner with and really get them to use the product as soon as possible. The biggest advantage is, combined with our acquisition of Pivotal, its empowering developers to be able to write applications faster and more securely. A big part of the transition that Kubernetes and cloud in general enables is to allow application team to make progress without any roadblocks. Traditional IT has lots of blockstep processes between IT and operations. What we want to do is to unlock that latent potential locked up behind all these roadblocks for IT developers. So really unlocking that wave of innovation for all enterprises and not just those born in the cloud.

Specifically, in the telco space, we’re on the cusp of 5G build-out, and customers are looking for a platform that lets them innovate for their consumer facing interfaces and adding features to their network. As we move to a software defined world, Kubernetes has an exciting opportunity.

Finally, edge in general. Five years ago, everyone would say that everything is moving to public cloud, where we’ll have three big computers across the entire world. It turns out that there are all these other forces that are pulling workloads in the other direction. Whether it be latency or applications, data sovereignty, things like GDPR, and IoT, or high latency networks. There are all these real-world complications that provide counter forces to this centralized cloud story. I think Kubernetes provides a consistent platform across all these different environments is perfectly positioned to be able to help enterprises deal with that complexity. I think VMware is in great position to be the easy onramp for enterprises into the Kubernetes world.

DQ: Existing vSphere customers will get seamless upgrades to the new vSphere with containers managements?

Joe Beda: I don’t think we have all the details of how Project Pacific is going to find its way into products. It’s not something we’re ready to talk about right now. What I can say is for vSphere and VMware PKS customers, we recognize that they’ve made a bet in investment for us, and we want to make sure we provide as smooth a transition as possible as we continue to evolve this stuff.

Anybody who has been involved with Kubernetes, they know it’s a dynamic, exciting environment. Having partners like VMware by their side will help them evolve with the community.

DQ: What about the Partner and ISV eco-system for it? Would it help onboard new partners into the eco-system, because it’s a different area altogether?

Joe Beda: This is one of the things that’s exciting for VMware, because we’re not just talking about a virtualized infrastructure, but the entire application lifecycle and management, and how different operations team, IT developers, partners relate to each other. We’re able to have conversations with teams inside enterprises where traditionally we had a hard time reaching. So a big part of this effort is to really expand the audience in terms of the types of customers inside enterprises that VMware is working with. This of course opens new opportunities for our partners.

DQ: When you think of players like RedHat, they would also be a partner for VMware? How does that work?

Joe Beda: This is nothing new for the tech industry.  The job of vSphere and the value we offer is to provide a great environment for all sorts of workloads from IBM. Similarly, you see the things like VMware being a part of the Dell consortium, but there’s a great partnership between VMware and HPE, in terms of running VMware on top of HPE hardware. We see this sort of both competition and cooperation type of dynamics, which is not uncommon in our industry.

DQ: What about integration with other VMware products, like Workspace ONE?

Joe Beda: The challenge for any company like VMware is that you want to offer customers an integrated world, but also make fast progress in terms of building products, so we are really listening to our customers on what the critical needs that their customers have and then building the necessary integration based on the feedback. There’s a long list of ideas that se have and when you’re in that position, the best thing to do is to listen to your customers.

There’s a lot of efforts in taking vSphere taking to the next level to both add features for users in general and create opportunities for adding Kubernetes workloads on top of vSphere on top of it. I’m sure There’s a ton of folks doing things around GPUs, ML, AI, and there’s project dimension where we’re taking vSphere into a managed offering, and there’s work on vSphere on ARM, so I don’t want to leave anyone out.

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