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VMware teams with Pivotal rather than tackle containers alone

Pivotal Container Service brings Kubernetes to vSphere while NSX adds security, but the new service raises questions about VMware's own container projects.

LAS VEGAS – VMware has reshuffled its container management strategy to support Kubernetes in vSphere – and has cast doubt on the future of its own container platforms.

Through its partnership with Pivotal Software Inc., VMware has added commercial support for Kubernetes to VMware vSphere, which will appeal to enterprises that want to run containers on premises. The service is based on the open source Kubo project Pivotal unveiled earlier this year which pairs its BOSH configuration management software with Kubernetes. While Kubo is available for free, VMware and Pivotal will sell commercial support services to organizations that run containers in production vSphere environments. PKS also integrates with VMware's NSX for networking and security, In addition to support for vSphere, customers will also be able to use the service on Google Cloud Platform.

PKS is expected to be generally available later this year, both companies said. They did not disclose pricing information.

The service should appeal to current VMware customers ready to invest in containers, though there are few today, analysts said. Most pressing for VMware is to show customers it has responded to growing interest in the technology, said Carl Brooks, analyst at 451 Research.

"This definitely checks a box for VMware saying they're aware of Google and Kubernetes," Brooks said. "Containers are a far from settled space. Enterprise adoption is nowhere in relative terms. There's a lot of action going on but it's a really small contingent of the overall IT market."

For customers that are ready to put containers into production, the networking and security functions delivered by NSX could bring traditional governance policies to containers and cloud-native applications. NSX will provide pod-level networking and security functionality that will extend enterprise security policies to containers.

Security for containers is hard to make operational, said Ken Bishop, technical director for San Francisco-based financial services firm Charles Schwab.

"The group that took care of the container environment weren't security experts and there was always contention with the security guys about how granular you can be with policies and how changes to the infrastructure affected policies," Bishop said. "From what I've seen, the functionally they have in PKS is pretty amazing."

Charles Schwab has pursued a vision of a container-focused infrastructure in recent years but progress has been slow, Bishop said.

"There's a lot of stuff we've been wanting to do, but it's just been too difficult," he said. "From what I saw, [PKS has] abstracted away a lot of complexity."

Photon and VIC in limbo

At its VMworld conference here this week, VMware highlighted its PKS service, but offered little hope for customers with its other two container platforms in the pipeline since 2015: vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC) and Photon Platform.

VIC enables administrators to run containers within VMs, but the platform currently lacks the scheduling and orchestration capabilities of Kubernetes. VMware continues to develop and support VIC, and expects to release version 1.2 shortly, said Wendy Cartee, senior director of cloud native marketing at VMware.

Also, VMware has scrapped plans to sell the Photon Platform as a commercial product, Cartee said. That may disappoint a few customers, but the product hadn't been widely adopted, and reflects VMware's rethinking how it can join forces with other technology companies – as seen in the company's deal with Amazon Web Services.

"[Photon Platform] was about proving the technology and showing they're aware of the interest out there," Brooks said. "This time around [with PKS] they're saying, 'Now we're working with Kubernetes and Google, because Google and Pivotal do Kubernetes better than we do.'"

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