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VMware Tanzu GA gives Cloud Foundry pros a Kubernetes leg up

VMware Tanzu Cloud Foundry users plan to move forward with the TAP Kubernetes platform, but VMware will be challenged to unseat Red Hat, SUSE and other competitors.

VMware shipped its Tanzu Application Platform product this week, accompanied by endorsements from existing Cloud Foundry customers, but the vendor is still playing catch-up with other established Kubernetes platforms and cloud services.

VMware Tanzu Application Platform (TAP) first became available in beta in September 2021, followed by monthly updates that culminated in a beta release 4 in December. Beta 2 in October laid the groundwork for integrations with VMware's multi-cloud management products. Beta 3 in November added features such as platform profiles, which automate the installation of Kubernetes clusters via open source packages created with VMware's Carvel tool set.

Beta 4, the release candidate now supported in production as version 1.0 of TAP, reduced platform profiles' installation time by more than seven hours, and updated the platform's graphical user interface, which is based on the Backstage software catalog project. VMware declined to disclose pricing for the TAP product.

Beta 4 also contained what VMware officials termed a critical enhancement during a press briefing last week, which divided the test automation (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) portions of TAP's built-in DevOps toolchain, along with bug fixes and stability updates.

"We have split our supply chain logic from the components that take care of the application delivery itself," said Valentina Alaria, director of product management for cloud-native apps at VMware, during the briefing. "It can be more easily mapped to a multi-cluster environment, where [customers] want to run the core of [the] supply chain, with integration testing and scanning on one cluster, and then target a different cluster as production to run [the] workload."

TAP a potential 'tipping point' for Cloud Foundry users

VMware Tanzu Cloud Foundry users also spoke during the vendor's press briefing to say they have run proof-of-concept trials on TAP and will further evaluate the product for use in production this year.

Greg Meyer, Cerner Corp.Greg Meyer

Some customers from the VMware Tanzu superuser group, called Vanguard, had previously expressed hope that VMware would revive efforts to meld the user interfaces between its Cloud Foundry-based Tanzu Application Service (TAS) and the new Kubernetes-based TAP. But now, at least some have begun to contemplate migrating to TAP and away from TAS long term.

"[TAP] gives folks that want to do Kubernetes development a lot of the same type of quick outcomes that you can get with Cloud Foundry, [and] the ability to do things that you just couldn't do before," said Greg Meyer, distinguished engineer at Kansas City-based healthcare IT firm Cerner Corp. and a Vanguard member, during the press briefing. "That very well may end up being the tipping point for folks that currently have TAS inside of their organizations."

It will likely be the tipping point for Cerner, at least, Meyer added during a separate interview.

Kubernetes is going to be our longer-term approach. TAP is more than likely going to be the 'paved road' [to production] that we're going to create.
Greg MeyerDistinguished engineer, Cerner Corp.

"Kubernetes is going to be our longer-term approach," he said. "TAP is more than likely going to be the 'paved road' [to production] that we're going to create."

Kubernetes is already in use within the company, said Bryan Kelly, software engineer at Cerner, during the press briefing. TAP will ideally help the highly regulated company maintain corporate control over software deployments for compliance purposes, while adding improved developer flexibility over Cloud Foundry's highly prescriptive platform approach.

"We have teams using Helm, we have teams using Spinnaker, Argo CD, Flux CD, Tekton -- you could throw a dart at the cloud-native landscape and find a team that has either tried it or is currently using it," Kelly said. "It doesn't work as a business to be doing development and production operations in that fashion because it harms the portability of humans between [teams] or helping other [teams'] initiatives."

Broader appeal of TAP an open question at GA

VMware arguably has a captive audience in its TAS customers, who need help transitioning from the legacy PaaS platform to a more modern Kubernetes-based DevOps infrastructure, and who already have a relationship with VMware technical support. During the press briefing, members of the Tanzu Vanguard user group also said a built-in learning platform added to TAP in Beta 3 will be crucial for upskilling IT operations staff.

The feature, called Learning Center, provides hands-on demos based on their company's platform that developers and IT ops pros can walk through rather than generic instructions they must translate to what their company is doing.

"That Learning Center is what got me excited when I saw the pictures of it," said Raji Padmanaban, IT director at OneMagnify, a marketing and advertising firm in Detroit that is a longtime user of the Pivotal Cloud Foundry platform. However, OneMagnify reps who spoke during the briefing did not say whether the company has committed to putting TAP into production yet.

Meanwhile, outside the TAS user base, competitors such as IBM Red Hat, SUSE Rancher and hyperscale cloud providers such as AWS have been offering a curated Kubernetes experience to enterprises for years, and it may be difficult for VMware Tanzu to catch up.

VMware officials tout pre-built DevSecOps supply chains as TAP's main differentiation, which can also be customized by platform engineers to accommodate developer preferences. But it's unclear how well that will resonate with Agile and DevOps shops. Some may be worried about returning to the bad old days of change control processes under ITIL and waterfall methods, according to one analyst.

Rob Strechay, ESGRob Strechay

"Standardizing all the toolchains and all of the dependencies and things like that makes me wonder if [operators] now have to know what devs need before they need it, and go and put a template in there," said Rob Strechay, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, a division of TechTarget, in an interview. "That's kind of against where development has been going over the last few years."

Still, incorporating the up-and-coming Backstage project into TAP may boost VMware Tanzu's popularity, Strechay added.

"That's a new name that comes up [among] some people who feel that Rancher is not as agnostic [to different Linux distros under SUSE] as it used to be," he said. "But Backstage has a lot of the templates and connectors, a lot of the same stuff [as TAP] -- it's something I want to dig into a little bit and see how much VMware is actually contributing back."

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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