VMware Looking to Capitalize on the Containerization Opportunity

Tuesday May 26th 2015 by Paul Rubens
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The server virtualization company has been taking the initial key steps in ensuring its customers can use containers safely within the embrace of the VMware ecosystem.

It's hard to overestimate the significance of containers to the server virtualization business. They have the potential to be a grave threat or a lucrative opportunity for the likes of VMware.

They're a threat because they do much of Virtually Speaking what server virtualization achieves, but at the same time, they present an opportunity if VMware and the like can get people to use the two technologies in tandem. And if this happens, containers then become a feature of server virtualization that enhances it and makes it even more useful.

VMware has been quick to grasp that containers represent an opportunity. In part that's because the company is really making a push into public clouds with its vCloud Air cloud platform, and containers make it easy for companies to move applications around hybrid clouds — from the private cloud in their data center out to a public cloud like vCloud Air.

So it's not a huge surprise that in mid-April the company announced two open source projects that are intended to increase the utility of containers to VMware customers.

Project Photon Linux OS for Cloud-Native Apps

The first of these is Project Photon, a lightweight Linux operating system for cloud-native apps that the company says is optimized for its vSphere hypervisor and vCloud Air.

Project Photon is designed to:

  • Support the most popular Linux container formats, including Docker, rkt and Garden from sister company Pivotal
  • Feature a minimal footprint (approximately 300MB) in order to provide an efficient environment for running containers
  • Allow for easy migration of container workloads from development to production
  • Work with all the security, management and orchestration features of vSphere

Now VMware isn't the first company to announce a lightweight Linux distro for containers. Red Hat has already done so with its Project Atomic, Canonical has announced Snappy Ubuntu, and let's not forget CoreOS. But VMware is hedging its bets by providing support for CoreOS's Rocket and Garden — a container technology created by VMware staff amongst others at sister company Pivotal — as well as Docker, the de-facto container standard.

Project Photon is available now on GitHub and from various other sources.

Next Page: VMware's Project Lightwave

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Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

Follow ServerWatch on Twitter and on Facebook

Next Page: VMware's Project Lightwave

Prev Page: VMware's Project Photon

Project Lightwave for Identity and Access Management Services

VMware's other project announced at the same time is called Project Lightwave. (If you believe some physicists then light behaves both as a wave and as a particle called a photon, so the two projects are named after light in its two theoretical forms. What's the relevance of light to containers? Hard to say.)

Project Lightwave is another open source project from the company, and it includes standards-based, enterprise-grade identity and access management services that VMware hopes will effectively address security, governance and compliance issues.

Lightwave features include:

  • Multi-tenancy to simplify governance and compliance across the infrastructure and application stack and across all stages of the application development lifecycle
  • Support for SASL, OAuth, SAML, LDAP v3, Kerberos, X.509 and WS-Trust
  • Extensible authentication and authorization using username and password, tokens and PKI infrastructure for users, computers, containers and user-defined objects

Unlike Photon, Lightwave is not yet available, but VMware plans to release it at some point in the coming months.

Of the two new projects, Photon is arguably the most interesting one. That's partly because it's available now rather than being vaporware, but also because VMware has made an effort to support three container formats.

It's a smart move because it should help appeal to a wide constituency of people — fans of rkt and fans of Docker alike (and fans of Garden if there are any yet). CoreOS can offer all of that except the Garden bit, but it doesn't have the VMware name behind it, which will be important for many companies.

And that's key. Companies that choose VMware for their server virtualization are comfortable with VMware products. So if there's a VMware-backed container OS (albeit an open source one), then that's going to reassure them that they can start using containers safely within the embrace of the VMware ecosystem.

And that, more than anything else, is what VMware wants the future of containers to be like.

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Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

Follow ServerWatch on Twitter and on Facebook

Prev Page: VMware's Project Photon

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