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VMware containers strategy targets cloud app developers

VMware adds a few more pieces to its cloud-native apps and open source initiatives, this time with Docker container tools to reel in developers.

SAN FRANCISCO --VMware rolled out a series of tools that could offer developers a soup-to-nuts way to build and deploy cloud applications.

VMware used DockerCon 2015 here this week to debut a free API-driven Mac hypervisor called AppCatalyst that offers developers a way to build containerized applications using their desktop. VMware also showed off an early version of Project Bonneville, which allows IT pros to integrate Docker containers into the vSphere platform using their existing management processes and tools.

Coming on the heels of its open source Project Lightwave and Project Photon offerings intended to encourage adoption of cloud-native applications, the new tools further reflect VMware's commitment to changing its way of developing applications for the new age.

"These new offerings [along with Projects Lightwave and Photon] are all bits of technology to accommodate developing applications with Docker and containers," said Al Hilwa, program director, application development software at IDC. "They are trying to create more of an end-to-end environment for people to use VMware technology from development to deployment."

One strategic advantage VMware hopes to gain is better security, something in-house corporate developers consistently place a high priority on, along with better overall performance, Hilwa said.

"They have some interesting technologies with these offerings that will offer higher performance because it will take less time for things to boot up, for instance, but offering more security for VMs is always going to be a plus," Hilwa said.

We haven't traditionally focused on developers – more on IT operations – and that is something that we're trying to change.
Kit ColbertVMware CTO, Cloud-Native Apps

Some in-house developers are pleased with VMware's continued focus on working open source technologies in with its existing proprietary products, which many users have made significant investments. They also like the fact they can use their existing processes and tools to work with the new offerings.

"The way to users' hearts and wallets these days is through open source," said one IT professional with a large manufacturing company in St. Paul, Minn. "Look at the efforts that Microsoft and other large software companies are putting in the last year or two. They are taking open source much more seriously."

Some VMware officials admit the more intense focus takes the company out of its comfort zone, but know this is what needs to be done to move forward.

"We haven't traditionally focused on developers – more on IT operations – and that is something that we're trying to change," said Kit Colbert, VMware's CTO of Cloud-Native Apps.

VMware containers strategy targets cloud app developers

AppCatalyst is suited for corporate developers working on Macs who want to sidestep more complex workstations such as the graphical-based VirtualBox or VMware' Fusion.

"Think of it as a headless Fusion with API interfaces and integration to Docker Machine and Vagrant," Colbert said.  

AppCatalyst features Project Photon built in, as well as VMware tools, drivers and networking for better integration within a VMware environment. The goal, according to Colbert, is to let developers build Docker containers that can reside on VMware infrastructure.

VMware is broadening its virtualization scope, Colbert said. Consolidation was most people's first experience with the technology but now their interest with it centers on operational simplicity he said, citing things such as vMotion, performance management and security. But containers have yet to achieve that operational simplicity.

When it comes to containers, "we believe that developers shouldn't have to care" about where the application runs, but "it's IT ops that should need to care," Colbert said.

Project Bonneville, which is tailored to take advantage of Docker, allows containers to be downloaded from Docker Hub, and starts up each container in its own VM, which improves security. And the Instant Clone feature in vSphere cuts down on the overhead in launching VMs, thereby improving performance.

Bonneville's strategic purpose is to map a container along with the Docker API on to an ESX host, thereby turning an ESX host into a Docker host, according to Colbert. He contends that the benefit of this to administrators is they can see and manage the containers within vSphere and associated backup and monitoring and performance management tools.

The integration tool also addresses another knock against traditional server virtualization vs. containers – boot time of the guest OS, according to company officials. They claim server virtualization in and of itself introduces very little performance overhead –2-3%.

But because the guest operating system inside the VM must boot up from scratch, it can take a while to get a new instance up and running. To combat that, Bonneville leverages features of vSphere 6 called Transparent Page Sharing and Instant Cone to speed up container boot times.

"Basically, it takes a running VM and makes an instant clone of it, complete with shared memory, like a Unix fork," Colbert said. This drops the time to get a new VM up to just a couple of seconds, which is on par with creating a new container.


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