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VMware Tanzu beta project melds Cloud Foundry, Kubernetes

VMware Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes, now in public beta, intrigues PKS users by combining Kubernetes infrastructure components behind a Cloud Foundry developer interface.

IT shops that already use Pivotal Kubernetes Service may see a new VMware Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes as the natural path forward in containers, but the platform must broaden its integrations to maximize its appeal.

VMware Tanzu is VMware's Kubernetes product line, which combines projects and products from Wavefront IT monitoring, which VMware acquired in May 2017; Heptio Kubernetes distros and add-ons, which VMware bought in November 2018; and Pivotal commercial versions of Cloud Foundry PaaS utilities, which VMware acquired in December 2019. Products previously offered by this collection of companies under different names have been rebranded under Tanzu. For example, Pivotal Cloud Foundry is now called the VMware Tanzu Application Service for VMs.

This week's VMware Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes edition is based on the open source Project Eirini, a Cloud Foundry Foundation effort to integrate Kubernetes with the Cloud Foundry Application Service already used by some enterprise DevOps early adopters. It retains the Cloud Foundry API and developer PaaS experience, including the "cf-push" command, and automatically deploys apps to highly abstracted infrastructure.

But VMware Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes swaps out Cloud Foundry infrastructure utilities for Kubernetes ecosystem counterparts, such as Istio in place of the Cloud Foundry Go Router, and Kubernetes where Cloud Foundry had used Diego for container orchestration and BOSH for VM automation. Those Cloud Foundry utilities remain available for legacy workloads in the VMware Tanzu Application Service for VMs (see diagram).

VMware Tanzu Application Service
VMware Tanzu Application Service for VMs vs. VMware Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes

At least in theory, VMware Tanzu Application Service sounds a lot like what Pivotal Cloud Foundry and Pivotal Kubernetes Service (PKS) users such as Jay Piskorik, director of platform engineering at an East Coast company, were looking for at last year's Cloud Foundry Summit: a unified environment for application teams to operate in, standardized around cf-push.

"I'm very excited about the direction [VMware and Pivotal] are going with Tanzu," Piskorik said in an interview this week. "If they can create a PaaS platform where you can get things spun up quickly and deploy apps using cf-push anywhere, it's a potential game-changer."

Piskorik's team will evaluate the beta version of VMware Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes, but Piskorik said he's aware that so far the initial release is only certified to run on Pivotal Kubernetes Service (PKS) version 1.6 with vSphere and Flannel networking, and anxious to see that broaden to more infrastructure providers.

If they can create a PaaS platform where you can get things spun up quickly and deploy apps using cf-push anywhere, it's a potential game-changer.
Jay PiskorikDirector of platform engineering at an East Coast company

"It makes sense to be VMware-centric to start, and lock-in early isn't a big deal if the roadmap is aggressive," he said. "But the fear is that it might be more VMware-focused than Cloud Foundry was, which makes me a little hesitant to go 100 percent down that path."

The new Tanzu product is still in its early stages -- version 0.1.0, open for public beta, is recommended only for evaluation environments due to feature, scale and security limitations, including a lack of support for HTTPS network traffic, according to VMware documentation. The beta version of the VMware Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes may technically work with other distributions of Kubernetes, however, and VMware officials encouraged users in a blog post to test it with public cloud Kubernetes services. 

VMware Tanzu Application Service broader appeal uncertain

VMware Tanzu will appeal to VMware and Pivotal's existing install base, but this isn't VMware's first stab at making its virtualization business relevant to the Kubernetes and container world, and it has struggled in previous attempts. The company now must prove itself with products that are relative latecomers to the broader, crowded Kubernetes management market.

"The problem VMware Tanzu is trying to solve is good and understandable, and [Tanzu Application Service] offers a unified architecture for VMs and containers," said Tom Petrocelli, analyst at Amalgam Insights. "It also offers features beyond vanilla Eirini like service mesh, logging, a package manager and other things managed by the Cloud Foundation layer."

Cloud Foundry has a healthy user base, but the open source community was slow to embrace Kubernetes, and the platform doesn't have the same recent cachet among enterprises on the cutting edge of container orchestration and microservices as the major cloud-hosted Kubernetes services from Azure, AWS and Google, or other hybrid cloud platforms such as IBM/Red Hat OpenShift, which now boasts 1,700 enterprise customers. Now Cloud Foundry and its commercial backers in VMware/Pivotal face an uphill battle to catch up with the Kubernetes craze.

"If you're already a vSphere shop and want Kubernetes, you may look at Cloud Foundry as a potential PaaS layer -- I can imagine that process," Petrocelli said. "But will it translate into sales beyond that existing customer base? I don't know."

PKS user Piskorik also isn't totally sold on Kubernetes as the sole infrastructure automation platform of the future, and predicts that while it will be useful for apps such as Kafka and Elastic that demand rapid scalability, it isn't necessarily suitable for every enterprise workload.

"There's a lot of excitement, but I'm still not totally sold that it's prime-time ready at this point," he said. "There are a lot of people who say they're experts, but they don't actually have [containerized] apps in production yet."

It will be crucial to manage multiple distributions of Kubernetes alongside one another from a centralized interface to get the full value from the container orchestration framework, Piskorik said, which means his team may investigate building its own Kubernetes platform based on public cloud Kubernetes services and open source tools. Or they may go with Tanzu Mission Control for its heterogeneous management features, and forgo the Tanzu Application Service.

"If it doesn't matter what flavor of Kubernetes we're using, that pushes us into a whole new model of flexibility," he said.

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