When life is easy in the world of server virtualization, you can go it alone. But when things become trickier it's good to have friends.
That seems to be VMware's thinking at the moment: it's cuddling up to the world of containers, and it's also getting chummy with cloud providers like Microsoft and AWS.
So what exactly is going on?
At VMworld 2016 Europe in Barcelona a few weeks ago the company unveiled vSphere 6.5, the latest version of its server virtualization platform. It introduces a lot of changes, some more significant than others.
So here's an interesting one: VMware is very interested in the cloud, and would like its customers to run hybrid cloud setups with VMWare private clouds in their data centers that can expand to VMware public clouds.
The problem is that public clouds are expensive to set up, and there are already several rather good ones, most notably Amazon's and Microsoft's, in operation. So VMware's solution with vSphere 6.5 is to let customers link to VMware setups as a service in Microsoft's and now Amazon's clouds.
Doesn't this rather undermine the company's attempts to build its own public clouds and its vCloud Air service? Mike Adams, VMware's Senior Director of Product Marketing CPBU (Cloud Platform), thinks otherwise.
"It is to provide more choice," Adams claims. "vCloud Air is very mature, while the cloud on AWS is not quite there yet: there is a different architecture, a little different setup with multitenancy and a different interface."
While this may be about giving customers a choice, it may in fact be more about giving customers what they want: the ability to use AWS or Azure for the public cloud part of their infrastructure, rather than forcing them to use VMware's own offering — the relative maturity of which is up for debate.
Still, it's not a bad situation for VMware to be in: it means that Microsoft and AWS are paying for the data centers and no doubt forking out to use VMware's software, while VMware goes laughing all the way to the bank.
After all, it could be a lot worse than to have to make friends with people who make you money.
Feeling the Heat from Container Offerings
VMware is also feeling the heat of competition from container platforms. Where it gets really interesting is how VMware is reacting: by hugging them to its bosom.
How so? vSphere Integrated Containers is now out of beta and is part of vSphere 6.5. That means developers familiar with Docker can now manage containers, check them in and out of a registry, and launch them inside container VMs (running VMware's stripped-down PhotonOS, which has been designed for the job of containing containers), all from the comfort of a familiar VMware environment.
"Before, you had to join the beta program or cobble together an open-source version," explains Adams. "Of course, if you don't use containers then you don't need to download the VMware Integrated Containers binaries."
VMware has also chosen to announce a raft of security measures for its server virtualization side that are similar to ones that have been announced for various container platforms.
As an example, for the first time VMware now offers virtual machine-level encryption for VMs at rest and for ones being vMotioned around the network. Enterprises can use their existing key management infrastructure if they wish.
And just like CoreOS's Distributed Trusted Computing (DTC) environment for containers, VMware now offers a trusted chain that involves Secure Boot and verification that vSphere and guest OSes have not been tampered with.
One way to ingratiate yourself with your customers is to make your product easier to use, and to this end the company has introduced a simpler vCenter server appliance.
Users can now migrate from a standalone server to the appliance with a single step (with all rules and preferences transferred at the same time), and once up and running they can update the operating system, application and databases with a single patch. The new appliance has built-in High Availability (HA) and offers a 2x boost in scalability and a 3x boost in performance to boot.
Another change comes to the vSphere client. It's now built entirely in HTML5 and offers an all-new interface, which Adams says makes searching easier, makes alarms bigger, and introduces a better look and feel. It also introduces developer- and automation-friendly REST APIs and interfaces that simplify automation and development.
There's also what Adams describes as "audit quality logging," which is very much more detailed and verbose than what was available previously. These can be examined on an external log management system or using VMware's Log Insight.
So all in all, it looks like a worthwhile update, and one that should help VMware make valuable friends as it fights the twin threats of containerization and the cloud.
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.