This content is part of the Conference Coverage: VMworld 2021 news and conference coverage

VMware Tanzu roadmap targets multi-cloud, vSphere pros

VMware shops say the Tanzu platform's integration with familiar tools is a big draw as they move toward Kubernetes, but much of that integration is still in progress.

VMware Tanzu has a captive audience within the vendor's large customer base, but integration work remains before its Kubernetes management platforms and tie-ins with vSphere products are fully baked.

VMware rolled out a raft of Tanzu updates, many of which included plans to interweave Tanzu IP with existing products, such as VMware Cloud, at its VMworld 2021 virtual event this week. These include a second phase for the beta-stage Tanzu Application Platform (TAP) launched at the SpringOne event last month; a new Tanzu Service Mesh Advanced Edition; a free and open source Tanzu Community Edition; and multiple codenamed projects meant to link Kubernetes and multi-cloud management more closely with familiar vSphere tools.

The vendor has ambitions for Tanzu beyond its existing customer base, according to company officials at the event. 

Raghu Raghuram, VMwareRaghu Raghuram

"This is the opposite of a monolithic portfolio," said VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram in a keynote presentation. "We are delivering tremendous value to every kind of business, both enterprises modernizing their apps and younger born-in-the-cloud businesses."

But so far, the most significant differentiator for the Tanzu product line is its integration with existing vSphere tools, especially vCenter, with which its customers are already familiar.

"Enterprises will choose the Tanzu platform just because they have trust in VMware," said Larry Carvalho, an independent cloud computing consultant. "But I'm not seeing anything totally new here in the market -- VMware's not leading, but catching up."

For example, many of the features now at the beta stage with the Tanzu Application Platform, such as built-in support for Tekton CI/CD pipelines, have long been available for rival products such as Red Hat OpenShift. Other players such as JFrog are also already out in the market with some of the same DevSecOps automation features VMware's TAP beta promises, such as container security scanning within preconfigured "paved paths to production."

VMware is making efforts to open Tanzu products to supporting non-Tanzu Kubernetes environments, and by extension, non-VMware customers, but it will take more work to make this a substantial selling point, said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC.

"It is still challenging to realistically split a platform between two vendors, having someone else provide Kubernetes and VMware for TAP," Chen said. "VMware might have to come up with some solid partnership deals there to really convince customers to do that."

VMware vSphere users eye Tanzu

Still, VMware's total customer base represents a sizable portion of the enterprise IT market -- some 500,000 customers, according to the vendor's website. And for many of those customers attending VMworld this week, integration with familiar tools -- even if it's still a work in progress -- remains a compelling proposition.

"Our administrators are familiar with VMware vSphere and vCenter," said Tony Salazar, an infrastructure engineer at iTalk Global Communications, a telecommunications service provider in McLean, Va. Salazar said he is considering Tanzu Kubernetes Grid and TAP to replace a set of separately managed Kubernetes clusters the company uses to do video processing for customers.

I believe Tanzu would make everyone's life easier by providing a management interface [IT administrators] are already using.
Tony SalazarInfrastructure engineer, iTalk Global Communications

"I believe Tanzu would make everyone's life easier by providing a management interface they are already using," Salazar said.

Other VMware users echoed Salazar's enthusiasm for Tanzu's vSphere and vCenter integrations, some of which, such as a link between vCenter and the Kubernetes command line tool kubectl, are available.

"I've spent more than 10 years becoming a VMware expert, so I am excited to be able to stick with VMware even as public cloud providers become more popular," said a senior systems engineer for a major car parts retailer based in the Southeast who requested anonymity.

That retailer is also using containers via other means and cloud services from Microsoft Azure, but the senior systems engineer said VMware could still provide valuable help curating the many open source tools available for Kubernetes management.

"I hope that Tanzu integrates enough different advantages from various open source toolchains to ensure that it will get adopted," he said.

TAP beta 2 feature updates

TAP beta 2 fills in the basic outlines represented by TAP beta 1 updates last month, according to VMware officials, though it's not yet complete.

"There are 20 packages that became available with beta 2," said Valentina Alaria, director of product management for TAP. "What we had in beta 1, which was four disjointed components, now we have 16 components that are all stitched together ... it's 95% of the solution compared to what we had."

These packages include a feature called Supply Chain Choreographer, based on an internal project VMware began in 2020 and open sourced this week as Project Cartographer, a spec for a set of YAML templates IT ops admins can use to create pre-approved toolchains to support developers' Kubernetes app deployments. This release will include Cartographer tie-ins with Tekton and Jenkins CI/CD tools and Anchore container image scanning, with more pre-built integrations to come in future monthly beta updates, Alaria said.

TAP beta 2 also includes new developer tools, including Visual Studio Code and Tilt IDE plugins and debugging features for Kubernetes. This week's release lays the groundwork for data service binding support, based on another open source project that enables operators to provision cross-cluster resources attached to application services. This first integration will include imperative provisioning processes, but later versions will also include declarative application binding services more in line with Kubernetes best practices, Alaria said.

Separately, VMware introduced a new Tanzu Service Mesh Advanced Edition this week, which includes built-in service mesh security automation features such as auto-discovery for servers, APIs, users and locations with monitoring that learns how users' behavior changes over time for API security purposes. Tanzu Service Mesh is not yet a part of TAP, though that integration is on the TAP roadmap, according to a VMware spokesperson.

Tanzu Community Edition -- first one's free

VMware also rolled out a free and open source version of the Tanzu portfolio, Tanzu Community Edition (TCE) this week. The pre-integrated bundle of open source tools includes Grafana, Prometheus and Fluent Bit monitoring; Knative serverless computing; Open Policy Agent policy as code; Calico container networking; Cluster API lifecycle management; and upstream Kubernetes container orchestration, among other utilities.

Theoretically, customers can use TCE indefinitely, though it doesn't come with enterprise support. However, VMware is positioning the product as a way for IT pros to dabble in Kubernetes and microservices management, with the expectation that they will eventually move to the paid editions of Tanzu once they start production.

At this stage, there's still some fine print attached to that part of the process. All the upstream parts of TCE have downstream value-add equivalents in the paid versions of Tanzu, and migration between them is not yet straightforward.

"The migration process as of now is based on a strategy of using common repositories and Velero migration," a VMware spokesperson wrote in an email, "but we are working on simplifying it."

This is where TCE faces especially formidable competition from the big three cloud players' managed Kubernetes services, Carvalho said.

"All the cloud providers offer end-to-end packages [for Kubernetes management], charge very little to get started, and you immediately get full features from the beginning," he said. "It seems like the Community Edition is still very early in the thought process and not yet simplified for users."

VMware weaves Tanzu into cloud products

VMware introduced new projects this week that set the stage for broader container and Kubernetes multi-cloud support through vSphere and vCenter, such as Project Arctic and Project Cascade, both of which became available in tech preview during VMworld.

Project Arctic is SaaS version of vCenter that can manage on-premises resources, intended as a step toward cloud migration for vSphere users. Project Cascade will unify VM-based cloud infrastructure and Kubernetes container management.

"We've already enabled compute services with the VM operator, and we look forward to working with the Kubernetes community to expand this to all of our infrastructure services," said Mandy Storbakken, cloud technologist at VMware, of Project Cascade in a keynote presentation. "You will get a converged IaaS and CaaS consumption service across any cloud, exposed through the Kubernetes APIs."

Finally, VMware Cloud on AWS also now supports Tanzu Kubernetes features at no extra cost, and VMware's keynotes teased an upcoming integration of VMware Cloud into the AWS Console.

VMware execs who presented during the virtual conference also acknowledged some of the misconceptions about the cost of VMware Cloud.

"People think VMware Cloud is more expensive than native public clouds, and ... that they have to pay twice to us and our partners," said VMware President Sumit Dhawan in a keynote. "Both are false."

Another challenge for VMware is that other enterprise vendors such as IBM/Red Hat have a commanding lead with similar hybrid cloud products that extend beyond AWS, analysts said.

"Tanzu support on VMware Cloud on AWS isn't something exactly unexpected, but to me it seems a bit late," said IDC's Chen. "With all the focus on containers in the market, it took a while before it flowed out to the cloud, and it's also exclusive to AWS right now -- it will take time to flow out to [other] partner clouds."

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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