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VMware Tanzu Kubernetes strategy hits integration milestone

VMware follows competitors in shipping a fully integrated Kubernetes infrastructure package, but vSphere tie-ins and a strong AWS partnership will bolster its enterprise appeal.

The VMware Tanzu portfolio's first generally available Kubernetes integration with vSphere shipped this week, an important development for the maturing Kubernetes platform market.

The product, previously codenamed Project Pacific, provides a connection point between VMware's line of Tanzu Kubernetes tools and the VMware vSphere vCenter management interface. It was first released in technical preview in August 2019, followed by the first generally available Tanzu Kubernetes products in March 2020.

In April, VMware added further groundwork for Kubernetes integration with vSphere 7. On Sept. 15, it previewed four product packages -- Tanzu Basic, Standard, Advanced and Enterprise -- that bundle Kubernetes in with VMware infrastructure products such as vSphere and VMware Cloud Foundation.

Pat Gelsinger, VMwarePat Gelsinger, VMware

Tanzu Basic, which embeds Tanzu Kubernetes Grid management alongside vSphere 7 VMs through vCenter, has shipped this week, as has official support for the product running in VMware Cloud on AWS. These two releases represent the production-ready incarnation of Project Pacific, according to VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger in a keynote presentation during VMWorld 2020.

"The best way for us to demonstrate our belief in the power of Kubernetes … is to re-architect vSphere with Kubernetes at the core, and that's what's we've done," Gelsinger said in the presentation. "What we called Project Pacific is now fully available."

VMware Tanzu editions repackage cloud infrastructure

VMware Tanzu Standard, also newly available this week, includes parts of Tanzu Mission Control, along with Prometheus for container monitoring. Tanzu Standard can be bundled with VMware Cloud Foundation network and storage infrastructure for vSphere. It, too, is now officially supported in VMware Cloud on AWS.

Multi-cloud support for Tanzu Basic and Standard began to take shape this week, as well. VMware launched a preview of  Tanzu Basic and Standard in Oracle Cloud VMware Solution, and has similar plans for Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Alibaba.

We got ourselves into a spot where the Tanzu products can be pretty complex for our customers, and even for our internal salespeople.
Scott BuchananSenior director of product marketing at VMware

Tanzu Basic and Standard include Kubernetes management within vCenter, but users must switch to the Tanzu Mission Control interface to manage clusters across multiple vCenter instances, or multiple clouds. This will be a significant step for some, but the Tanzu editions are meant to simplify the process. Customers can start small with Tanzu Basic in the familiar vCenter environment, said Scott Buchanan, senior director of product marketing at VMware, then add more Tanzu tools by purchasing the other editions.

"We got ourselves into a spot where the Tanzu products can be pretty complex for our customers, and even for our internal salespeople," Buchanan said in an interview. "With Tanzu editions, what we're trying to do is take the focus away from all the standalone product names that can be overwhelming and focus on the problems our customers are trying to solve."

Tanzu Advanced and Enterprise editions won't ship until the next VMware fiscal quarter, which starts in November, and no comprehensive list of features has been made available for these editions yet. Tanzu Advanced will include application deployment tools through a self-service catalog for developers based on Pivotal Cloud Foundry and Bitnami, Buchanan said. Enterprise will offer more advanced application automation features, but Buchanan declined to provide more details.

VMware seeks Kubernetes coopetition in the cloud

The enterprise IT market is already teeming with Kubernetes platform competitors, some of whom have  sold application deployment automation and packages of Kubernetes infrastructure for years.

IBM's Red Hat shipped its first Kubernetes infrastructure platform with Red Hat OpenShift in 2014, which now includes container storage management, Prometheus monitoring and support for the latest cloud-native automation projects such as Knative event-driven computing and Tekton CI/CD pipelines. Mirantis Docker Enterprise and SUSE/Rancher also offer the kind of multi-cluster and multi-cloud Kubernetes management features VMware is targeting with VMware Tanzu Standard.

Meanwhile, enterprise IT vendors focused on hybrid cloud Kubernetes management all face serious competition from public cloud providers as well, many of which have branched out into on-premises support, such as Google with Anthos and AWS with Outposts.

While the largest, most security-conscious enterprises will need such hybrid infrastructure, the most popular mainstream way to deploy Kubernetes in the cloud so far is through managed public cloud offerings such as Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service, Google Kubernetes Engine and Azure Kubernetes Service, according to a December 2019 survey of 958 enterprise IT pros by IDC.

In that survey, 35.1% of respondents said they use containers in the cloud through such managed services, while 22.6% said a third-party managed service provider handles cloud container infrastructure for them. Container software provisioned through a cloud provider catalog was favored by 21.2% of respondents, while self-managed "bring your own" software was last on the list, chosen by 21.1%.

However, VMware's strong VMware Cloud partnership with AWS could help it neutralize the cloud provider threat. The deal between the two companies -- in which AWS is VMware's preferred public cloud partner and AWS includes support for VMware Cloud on Outposts -- has been lucrative for VMware. In VMware's fiscal second quarter of 2021, which ended July 31, revenue from the partnership grew more than 100% compared with the same quarter last year, Gelsinger said during the company's Aug. 27 earnings call.

The company didn't disclose revenue numbers for VMware Cloud on AWS in its quarterly earnings statement, but listed that product among top contributors to its "subscription and SaaS" balance sheet line item. This portion of the business, which grew 11.4% compared with last year, accounted for all the company's revenue growth in the quarter -- by contrast, traditional license revenue fell 7%.

It also works in VMware's favor that the market for multi-layer enterprise Kubernetes platforms is still at an early stage, even though the Kubernetes project has been hyped for more than six years. Most enterprises now have some Kubernetes running in production, but it has yet to penetrate very far.

Gary Chen, IDCGary Chen

In its April 2020 Container Forecast study, IDC estimated that about 5% of the total compute capacity at enterprises would be used for containers by the end of the year. While Kubernetes is the industry standard for orchestrators, there are still others in use -- notably Docker Swarm, along with containers that aren't used with orchestration. IDC analysts believe Kubernetes has about 80% market share, which would mean it will account for about 4% of total enterprise compute by the end of 2020.

"Of that, only 47% is production, so just under 2% of total enterprise compute is Kubernetes for production applications," added IDC analyst Gary Chen, who compiled the container forecast report.

VMware Tanzu seeks allure beyond vSphere base

VMware Tanzu's strongest appeal will be to existing VMware users, who represent a big chunk of the enterprise IT market at some 600,000 customer accounts. However, VMware server, network and storage infrastructure isn't required to use Tanzu Kubernetes Grid, which is based on the open source distribution VMware acquired with Heptio in 2018.

VMware also has products in many IT categories beyond vSphere, from NSX software-defined networking to Carbon Black security software and CloudHealth cloud monitoring tools, that could lead more customers toward Tanzu.

Torsten Volk, EMATorsten Volk

"Everybody in the cloud has a need for compliance enforcement, so CloudHealth, for example, is potentially an interesting entry point [for customers]," said Torsten Volk, an analyst at EMA. "VMware can suck you into their universe by making [different tools] attractive."

Red Hat may have been first to ship a Kubernetes platform, but there's also such a thing as a "second mover advantage," said Tom Petrocelli, an analyst at Amalgam Insights.

"The first person in is not always the winner; others can watch first movers make all the mistakes and come in with something that looks way more solid," Petrocelli said. "A lot of times, the market also has to be built up, and corporate infrastructure -- things like enterprise sales and marketing experience -- really, really matters. Mirantis has to build all that up, and that was part of why Red Hat sold to IBM."

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