VMware keeps its enemy close with Docker integration

Many view Docker containers as a competitor to VMware, but the virtualization giant now supports it along with other container technologies.

A number of major technology companies have hitched onto the Docker bandwagon in recent months and this time, it's VMware.

The company promised at VMworld in August  to support containers, and this week released a set of technology integrations with Docker, Kubernetes and Pivotal that will make it easier for customers to use and manage containers.

The updates streamline the deployment process, allowing developers to move applications packaged in Docker containers from development platforms to test or production in a VMware vSphere or vCloud Air environment.

Formal support from the virtualization market leader is just the latest feather in the cap of relative-newcomer Docker, and some IT pros said the VMware integration could help spur adoption.

"VMware's name adds a lot of leverage, particularly for non-development shops," said Scott Gottesman, virtualization architect at Florida-based Ultimate Software.  "If I know I have a name like VMware who is backing it up, and I can get support if I need it, that's big."

However, others were more skeptical of the value the new integration would offer and questioned VMware's commitment to Docker containers.

"I don't think it's going to open new markets to people who hadn't considered containers," said Keith Townsend, an IT analyst and blogger. "Push-button deployment doesn't solve any of the challenges around containers."

Management, rather than deployment, is the real challenge that Docker and VMware should address, he said.

"For developers already using [VMware] Fusion, this might have some appeal," Townsend said. "But, all of the cool management things VMware has down to a science for VMs, they haven't ported any of that over to containers. So, this doesn't seem to offer anything new, it just creates a little less friction when deploying containers."

Docker vs. VMware virtualization

VMware has moved quickly to support containers after Docker started attracting industry attention earlier this year. Docker's container platform improves application portability by packaging applications with their dependencies, allowing them to be moved among different Linux distributions. With containers, developers can build applications on one platform and easily move those applications into test and production servers that may be running different operating system distributions.

For now, VMware is highlighting the portability advantages of containers, saying that the new integrations enable one-click deployment and allow developers that build an application on VMware Fusion to easily move the application into staging or production on vSphere or vCloud Air.

I think VMware is using it so that when they go to a customer, they can talk about their Docker strategy
Keith TownsendIT analyst

However, some see containers as a technology that could potentially threaten VMware's server virtualization business. Unlike virtual machines, containers can host applications without needing to run a separate operating system instance, allowing for greater degrees of consolidation.

"I think Docker is a full-blown competitor with VMware, the same as how OpenStack is viewed as a competitor," Townsend said.

"A lot of people still view Docker as a complimentary solution to VMware. I don't. I'm more cynical," he added. "I think it's lip service. Some of the guys within VMware are very passionate about this, but I think VMware is using it so that when they go to a customer, they can talk about their Docker strategy."

In addition to Docker support, VMware released integrations for other container virtualization technologies. The integrations will make it easier for VMware customers to deploy a Kubernetes cluster -- Google's container orchestration project that allows administrators to manage a cluster of containers as a single system -- from within the vSphere management console.

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