This content is part of the Essential Guide: VMworld 2015 conference coverage

VMware uses open source to further cloud-native apps

Criticized for proprietary lock-in, VMware's open source projects and container support may encourage developers to create cloud-native apps.

VMware struck a bold new commitment to open source with two projects to encourage adoption of cloud-native apps, as well as a version of Linux crafted specifically to run container environments.

The first open source project, Project Lightwave, is focused on identity and access management and reportedly offers enterprise-class security to cloud-native applications. The second is Project Photon, the first version of Linux built by VMware, which makes it possible to run both containers and VMs natively from a single platform.

The strong commitment to Linux and open source was inspired by conversations with IT pros who increasingly use containers with vSphere, as well as the increasing reliance on open source by developers to build their own applications, a VMware spokesperson said.

One analyst sees a few advantages to the company's new commitment to open source. First, it takes away past criticisms that if VMware was too proprietary in its overall strategies, it could throw some nails in the road to Microsoft's operating system and budding Hyper-V container efforts. Also with a new open source partner ecosystem, it could make containers more ecumenical.

However, incorporating open source technologies could also damage VMware's own margins, cutting down on monies it could invest in developing new technologies.

'Much of this is good but it is a defensive way of playing offense.'
Dana GardnerPrincipal Analyst, Interarbor Solutions

"Much of this is good but it is a defensive way of playing offense," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions, LLC in Gilford, N.H. "They are creating some disruption among competitors but hurting their ability to dominate in these new markets in terms of revenue. What will its commercial business look like in a few years?"

VMware's open source container projects take a village

The company's redoubled commitment to Linux and open source is further reflected in the partner companies involved. Project Photon will contain the CoreOS Linux container runtime as well as CoreOS' implementation of the Application Container Specification; Project Photon will be packaged as a Vagrant box available on HashiCorp's Atlas; JFrog will make both Projects Photon and Lightwave available in its Bintray distribution; Intel will work with VMware to support a number of security initiatives in the cloud-native applications market; and Pivotal (a spinoff of VMware and EMC) will work with VMware to combine Projects Photon and Lightwave with Lattice to create a secure infrastructure and scheduling tool.

"The big issue is not who they have aligned with but the fact they are working with many different solutions and aggregating them through vCenter," said Steve Brasen, managing research director of end point and mobile management with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). "The fact you can manage the containerized solutions and profiles for each one of the containers from a single location is big."

Some partners see VMware's support of Linux and open source as a necessary step if the company is to remain competitive in the world of cloud app development. They claim open source platforms and tools have become an integral part of developers' environments.

"At this point in 2015 companies are using open source to build a product, as is the case with VMware, or to build their own environments, as is the case with all our users," said Alex Polvi, CEO of CoreOS. 

VMware's hard swing toward open source is not just to accommodate the needs of corporate developers, but a reaction to the recent moves from competitors including Microsoft and Citrix.

"Microsoft has aligned itself with Docker and a month ago Citrix said they would support Docker with XenServer, so they had to react," said EMA's Brasen.

VMware will support CoreOS' container product, Rocket, although it will also support Docker as well as Pivotal's Garden containers. This gives VMware users the freedom to choose a container technology based on their application needs, VMware's spokesperson said.

Polvi said it makes sense for VMware to offer a choice of containers, given each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Rocket's strength is security, according to Polvi.

VMware officials claim one of the strengths of Project Lightwave is its ability to identify and authenticate not just users, but components residing in a cloud-based stack. Many identity and management products to date have focused primarily on users.

With cloud-native stacks becoming increasingly complex, filled with a mix of dozens of containers, networks and storage components, it has become critical that users know all of these components are carrying out their tasks and interacting with the other components properly, a VMware spokesperson said.

Ed Scannell is senior executive editor at TechTarget. He can be reached at [email protected]

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