If Containers are the new aliens, shouldn’t VMware be firing back?

By : |February 10, 2015 0
It is. It’s just that the weapons it carries are new and unusual. When we frisked VMware’s strategic pockets, we thought we would find bullets or bitter pills or poker-cards. But instead, we pull out cigars. Here’s how a ‘not so injurious’ tactic shapes up

Pratima H

MUMBAI, INDIA: For a company that has become almost synonymous with the word virtualization, a new alternative buzzing in the air cannot be all good news. Or so we thought.

We had every reason when we did. After all, the way words like Docker or Containers have been hijacking infrastructure-talks and application-gossip the last few months; there was enough wind to believe that advent of an almost radical way to make and wrap applications and other IT pieces, will send virtualization majors in the war-room again. Why? Not so hard to guess this one.

Suddenly, code-nerds have been relieved of all the unnecessary baggage they had to tow while putting an application together. Testing, configuring, programming and shipping the app anywhere has apparently become way leaner, easier and faster because now code can be boxed into virtual containers, and can work in hardware-agnostic ways.

Even though the concept is not entirely new, as an open-source program that enables a Linux application and its dependencies to be packaged as a container, Docker however, has changed the adoption appetite for containerization a lot. Names like Amazon, Google (which by the way is already doing the rounds with Kubernetes), and Microsoft etc only added to more dockyards. The man behind the Docker wave, Solomon Hykes has even tagged this phenomenon as the mass commoditization of the production of software.

When applications are isolated from each other on a shared operating system, it readily standardizes their delivery, and makes them portable across many distributions. Containers are hence, becoming popular as they allow developers to package up an application with all of the parts it needs (libraries and other dependencies) and does not necessitate creation of a whole virtual operating system, as is the case with VMs.

And yet it is another clever abstraction technique, just the abracadabra that Virtual Machines introduced the heavy hardware legacy IT world to.

Theoretically same, a container and a Virtual Machine (VM), have started being juxtaposed on comparison tables by users and experts already. Containers are said to be high on application-responsiveness, efficient, lightweight, way more portable, and good resource-sharers when it comes to operating system. In short – just right for today’s expectations from always-on, always-available, push-button and quick-to-munch apps, allowing developers to pick and choose the tools as per their taste and needs. Some argue that there is risk of applications spilling over to the other containers and issues like trouble-shooting, real isolation, OS upgrade snags in case of containers. VMs on the other side have different strengths on scalability, management, visibility, enterprise-robustness and security levels.

Yet it could be too lazy to insert that ‘or’ between containers and VMs. Or so we discover when we chat with Murad Wagh, senior manager, Systems Engineering, VMWare India with whom we unravel not only this friendly equation being forged with these new disruptors of the virtualization market but also spills around NFV, DevOps, VM cloning and more . The company is not exactly treating this substitute technology as a foe, but on the contrary, approaching it as a way to expand the market and complement each other’s footholds. Follow the smoke.

What’s your sense of this new frenzy wave that containerization has spurred in the industry? How strong is it as a cause of worry for virtualization market?

It is not exactly a new trend and has picked up with the advent of Docker recently. The best part is that VMware is teaming with containerization. Contrary to popular belief, we see them as complimentary changes in the market. We do not necessarily compete as some believe. A container is basically a shell that runs on a common OS and the concept is similar to a VM on abstraction level. If put together, VMware can make them go deeper in an enterprise space without any compromise or rip-and-replace or perceived risks. It can be blended well on two areas – core infrastructure and management.

Running apps is what VMware has been about. We bring infrastructure-level capabilities like load balancing, firewalling, security, storage etc to the table. Our new portfolio offerings and specially features introduced in vSphere’s latest version, are apt to the current stage of the market. On management side, we bring adequate visibility and keep the show up and running with tools on performance management, capacity-watch, cost-visibility, governance, lifecycle strengths and self-service models etc.

Talking of management, can you share any views on Google’s Kubernetes or Docker’s Libswarm?

No matter how great the idea of packaging app-stuff in one container is, you cannot create all containers at 3 am if there is a requirement. Options like Kubernetes are ways brought by Google with the intent to making it easy to deploy, scale and monitor apps. We have joined the community, contribute code and look forward to enterprise-level platform evolution. A good management layer helps to identify exactly where an app is stuck if it so happens – is it storage level or is it an infrastructure issue? That is answered well.

What is that good list that containers bring to the table? And vice versa.

A Docker is a bundled instance of an application and has great application in web-scale environments or for easy transition between clouds. Nowhere are they more relevant than at cloud-scale architectures. Legacy IT is still not ready for the concept. The speed and convenience of containers when married with availability and management-strengths of VMs is a new level altogether. Well, containerization is solving one problem of application portability but there is a certain segment of service that they need around and that’s what we can offer well. SDDC (Software-defined-Data-Centre) is a good case in point. We help to put all pieces together. Docker is a great concept but we can make it enterprise-ready and secure. Lots of customers are ready for production-use to leverage high availability of applications with agility of Docker and safety net of virtualization combined well.

Does this trend intersect somewhere with SDN (Software Defined Networking), NFV (Network Function Virtualization) or NV (Network Virtualization)?

Yes, it’s all part of overall infrastructure trends gaining ground in the industry. Micro-segmentation is one good example which tackles the problem of next-door-neighbour VMs having to tolerate perimeter firewalls. It brings in east-west traffic or VM to VM traffic and that is where traditional network architectures will not accommodate new changes. NV comes in as an answer there.

Would the containerization trend increase the distance between Dev and Ops as some experts warn?

No, it would be good news there for the agility and fast delivery cycles it can bring in. Devops folks are very excited about the concept as I sense.

Tell us something about the much-watched-out-for Project Fargo happening at VMware.

It is progressing towards a general availability stage being built in the latest version of vSphere too. It essentially lays a foundation for deploying a VM clone. The concept has been with us for last ten years but we have made the whole thing way faster without admin or user side being troubled for a role. If you can clone 64 VMs in six seconds, that’s a remarkable achievement level we are proud of.

Is there any chance of these clones piling up virtual sprawls?

No, because sprawl ensues when people do not return VMs back to IT. We have been sharply focused on governance. In fact, automation and cloud features enable scaling-down as well.

What is exciting to watch out for in your portfolio ahead? Have such new trends made IT more complex than earlier?

That’s what we are here for – to give customer a lot of choice but making things simple. Examples- SDDC in a box or other features to mask out complexity. In fact, we have witnessed a lot of re-platforming in the market with lot of legacy/UNIX apps moving to virtualization. Customers are adopting a virtualise-first policy with many new decisions. This month, we are adding a slew of announcements and are constantly creating a more robust platform for virtualization. It is not enough to virtualise only the compute parts. Now we are looking at storage and adding layers of automation, security. I see end-user computing and hybrid cloud as big highlights this year.

How has India turned out as a market? Do you still come across old-school CIOs not sure about virtualization or Cloud etc, specially with mission-critical apps?

Yes, those segments and concerns exist even though I would like to say things have changed completely. But still, it’s a work-in-progress rate where changes are happening slowly but steadily. We are trying to explain to them that today’s competitive business landscape requires time-to-market strengths and agility of a new era, more so in a scenario where Shadow IT is an easy and usual occurrence. They need to shape up lest competition gobbles up.

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