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VMware Tanzu Application Platform reflects PaaS shifts

VMware plans a developer on-ramp to Kubernetes with Tanzu Application Platform, a more flexible take on PaaS than Cloud Foundry that could heighten competition with OpenShift.

A VMware Tanzu product launched this week creates a Kubernetes-based PaaS that could more closely rival Red Hat OpenShift.

The VMware Tanzu Application Platform, now in public beta, will provide a developer interface for a pre-integrated set of Kubernetes-based application deployment and infrastructure management tools. The VMware Tanzu portfolio contains VMware's cloud-native IT automation products that integrate with the Kubernetes container orchestration platform, many of which it acquired with companies such as Heptio for Kubernetes management and Pivotal for the Spring Java framework and Cloud Foundry PaaS.

Tanzu Application Platform is not to be confused with the Tanzu Application Service, which is VMware's name for what used to be Pivotal Cloud Foundry. VMware also has a Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes product in development that integrates Cloud Foundry.

Tanzu Application Platform is focused on Kubernetes, without elements of Cloud Foundry baked in. In its first iteration, Tanzu Application Platform will provide a workflow for developers to create an app with a declarative manifest and quickly get a URL that's ready to test on Kubernetes. The first beta version will build in Tekton event-driven pipelines to perform continuous integration tests and orchestrate application deployment on Tanzu Kubernetes Grid clusters.

With general availability expected next year, VMware Tanzu Application Platform will also support other pipeline tools and Kubernetes versions, such as Jenkins and cloud-hosted Kubernetes services. Tanzu Application Platform includes Application Accelerators based in part on Spring Initializr, a web application that generates a Spring Boot project structure for developers. The new accelerators will also eventually support programming languages other than Java, including Python, JavaScript, Go and .NET.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a curated set of Kubernetes platform and DevOps deployment components that's easy for developers to use, according to VMware officials.

Organizations that we work with feel that their developers are really going to struggle getting started with Kubernetes. They wanted to make sure a [strong] developer experience would also be applicable across different Kubernetes environments.
Valentina AlariaDirector of product management, VMware

"Organizations that we work with feel that their developers are really going to struggle getting started with Kubernetes," said Valentina Alaria, director of product management for cloud-native apps at VMware. "They wanted to make sure a [strong] developer experience would also be applicable across different Kubernetes environments."

If a developer interface that shields application creators from the specifics of complex, highly automated deployment and infrastructure sounds familiar, it should. This was precisely the value proposition of the original PaaS players such as Heroku and Cloud Foundry.

Enterprise IT turned away from those tightly integrated but prescriptively designed platforms in the early days of DevOps, when the concept of the full-stack developer capable of designing and running their own application in production was a common aspiration among early-adopter IT organizations.

However, as DevOps and cloud-native technologies such as Kubernetes and microservices architecture reached the enterprise mainstream, full-stack developers turned out to be more myth than reality amid a general skills shortage.

Jeffrey HammondJeffrey Hammond

Now, the pendulum is swinging back toward PaaS, albeit reenvisioned with greater flexibility, according to Jeffrey Hammond, analyst at Forrester Research.

"Enough companies found value in delivery-centric PaaS that they want it on top of Kubernetes, so that their developers aren't spending three hours a day tweaking YAML code," Hammond said. "That's why OpenShift is so popular."

Catching up to Red Hat OpenShift

Developer-centric PaaS on Kubernetes also isn't new -- that's been Red Hat's value proposition for OpenShift since it ported the platform to a Kubernetes back end in 2014. It's the most widely adopted Kubernetes platform outside the public cloud with more than 3,000 enterprise customers to date, and VMware Tanzu's chief competitor.

The two could be, at least theoretically, complementary -- Tanzu Application Platform will be able to run on OpenShift Kubernetes, Alaria said.

But it's more likely the two will remain separate, said Gary Chen, analyst at IDC.

"It's a nice concept, but we'll have to see how that develops," he said. "A lot of people say things like that, but ... they would prefer you to run it on their [version of Kubernetes]. And for a developer, that value proposition isn't all that clear -- they don't care where it runs if it works."

In the meantime, VMware still has an opportunity to match OpenShift's clout given its large install base of enterprise customers just beginning to move from VMs toward containers and Kubernetes in production, Hammond said.

In part, it can do this by offering broader flexibility than OpenShift, which is tied closely to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system.

"Tanzu Application Platform has the same opportunity [as Red Hat OpenShift] without requiring a particular version of Linux," he said. "The fact that it isn't welded to Tanzu Kubernetes Grid is also the correct decision."

Whither Cloud Foundry Kubernetes?

Tanzu Application Platform also isn't VMware's first attempt to attach a smooth developer experience to Kubernetes -- efforts have been underway to move Cloud Foundry's "cf-push" developer interface onto Kubernetes. Tanzu Application Service for Kubernetes, based on the cf-for-k8s open source utility, was unveiled in May 2020 and remains in private beta.

This product was also a topic of discussion at Cloud Foundry Summit in July, when an expected convergence failed to materialize between cf-for-k8s and another open source approach to porting Cloud Foundry to Kubernetes, KubeCF. Some Cloud Foundry community members also expressed concerns about the viability of the cf-for-k8s project.

VMware's Alaria referred most Tanzu Application Service questions to that product's separate management team at VMware. No one from that team was available for comment this week. The Tanzu Application Platform team will also explore how customers can deploy it alongside the Tanzu Application Service, she said.

Nothing is certain yet, but if VMware does eventually prioritize Tanzu Application Platform as its Kubernetes PaaS, it might not have a negative effect on Cloud Foundry users at this point, Chen said.

"I don't think it would be the end of the world for Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes to stay separate, with new apps deployed on Tanzu Application Platform," he said. "The calculus may have changed. ... The strategy may be to leave the older stuff alone."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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