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Container automation still on the to-do list in VMware shops

Containers aren't a priority yet for many IT pros, but the tide is starting to turn.

LAS VEGAS -- Virtual machines are the bread and butter for VMware and its customers. And as both face a changing world, container automation is on the horizon, but not quite today's order of business.

VMware still has a window of opportunity in its container automation play, vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC), and unveiled two new features and a newly available beta program here at VMworld this week.

Those deploying containers in production remain a small minority. In a recent 451 Research survey, just 15% of respondents had even one container in production. But VMware must move quickly to capture its piece of the containers-as-infrastructure market, as forward-thinking customers are already evaluating other container automation plays, such as Docker Swarm, Kubernetes and Mesos.

"Developers are bringing in other platforms as they look to migrate to containers," said Timothy Loveridge, senior infrastructure engineer at Move Networks Inc., a streaming TV platform in American Fork, Utah, which is also considering Docker Swarm and Mesos.

There is some appeal to VIC, particularly with the new Admiral container management product and Harbor private container registry officially coming on board this week.

"There's already something we have in place that we know well," Loveridge said.

But since VIC inserts a lightweight VM layer between the container and the server infrastructure to allow for that familiar management, Loveridge said he'll have to carefully evaluate whether that layer introduces performance overhead.

"We'll see how many containers we can really put on the vSphere Container Host versus a different platform," he said.

VIC works to iron out container automation kinks

During a session this week, VMware engineers also revealed there's plenty more work to be done on VIC before it's ready for general availability (GA).

For example, API hooks into Kubernetes and Mesos are part of the plan for VIC, but those are not included in the version 0.5 beta being run today, according to Gary Coburn, a cloud automation specialist who presented VIC as part of an "Introduction to Containers as a Service" session.

VMware needs to make fewer arbitrary distinctions between what they're calling cloud-native apps and what's just modern app development.
Carl Brooksanalyst, 451 Research

Kubernetes and Docker Swarm support are the goal for GA, Coburn said, while Mesos integration will probably be a 90-day follow-up. These priorities are set by customer interest in the third-party platforms, he said.

There is still a one-to-one relationship between a container and a lightweight VM in VIC, though customers expressed an interest in being able to deploy more than one container to that nested VM. The future state of VIC may include some kind of design canvas, where containers run next to VMs on the same host, but that work still remains to be done.

Other customers asked if VMware's tools could monitor intercontainer or inter-VM communication among applications, but that's not ready yet, Coburn said.

In addition to the features infrastructure pros want, VMware must find a way to make its container play relevant to developers, according to Carl Brooks, analyst with 451 Research.

"VMware needs to make fewer arbitrary distinctions between what they're calling cloud-native apps and what's just modern app development," Brooks said.

Container automation on VMware shops' radar, but not top priority

Most IT pros from VMware shops say containers are something their user constituencies ask for, but not as much as VM-based infrastructure as a service (IaaS) to be delivered by IT infrastructure departments.

"There's not a real clamor for containers compared to the IaaS demand that's always been there," said Benjo Sevilla, a software specialist at a major healthcare company who asked that his company name not be used.

Not every IT shop has container-ready apps, either.

For example, one government agency still has apps, such as WebLogic, that require random number generation from the CPU on the server host, said an IT pro speaking on condition of anonymity.

It's been enough of a hassle to virtualize such applications, which were originally written 30 years ago, or to virtualize the agency's mission-critical databases.

"Once I get to virtualization, then I can think about containers," the IT pro said.

One large enterprise does plan to run the new VIC features: Indian telecom Bharti Airtel, which presented at a session on VMs, containers and mega-clouds here this week.

Bharti Airtel has waited for the VIC Admiral container automation features in particular, said Campbell McClean, the company's global chief architect, in the session.

"We need a conveyor belt that disciplines containers," McClean said. For example, Bharti wants a utility that will keep container deployments from stepping on each other, causing branches to developers' code.

"We don't want a code branch because we haven't applied the right kind of controls," McClean said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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