VMware Delivers Latest Building Blocks for Infrastructure-Independent ‘Portable Apps’

VMware has a powerful vision for a new level of ‘app portability,’ where IT can lift-and-shift an entire application or workload up from one infrastructure and run it on another – whether physical, virtual, on-prem, cloud or even a hybrid mix. VMware just released its latest building blocks for delivering on this vision. IDN speaks with VMware execs.

Tags: APIs, app, cloud, containers, DevOps, ESXi, hybrid, hypervisor, infrastructure, Integrated Containers, microservices, Photon, portability, provisioning, virtualization, VMware, vSphere, workloads,

Ajay Patel
senior vp
product development

"The big question in the cloud era is ‘How to make app deployments portable."

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VMware has a powerful vision for a new level of ‘app portability,’ where IT can lift-and-shift an entire application or workload up from one infrastructure and run it on another – whether physical, virtual, on-prem, cloud or even a hybrid mix. 


VMware just released its latest building blocks for delivering on this vision – a set of smoothing and seamless technologies to provide for truly infrastructure-independent apps.  The two new products, vSphere Integrated Containers and VMware Photon Platform, both debuted during the recent VMworld 2015.


IDN discussed the new technologies with top VMware execs, along with the company’s vision for ‘app portability’ and even really big questions about what the near-term future of DevOps in a hybrid IT might look like.


“The big question in the cloud era is ‘How to make app deployments portable,” said Ajay Patel, senior vice president of product development for VMware Cloud Services, “At the very top, this is really an application problem. Think about it and today apps need to configure their infrastructure deployment. So, how do you move workloads seamlessly without having to re-architect or migrate them to a specific cloud deployment?” Patel added.


To visualize the challenge, Patel harkened back to another era of software portability. “With Java, a JVM [Java Virtual Machine] could make a piece of code portable. With this initiative, VMware is laying out technologies for a hypervisor layer that can deliver app portability by virtualizing hardware infrastructure,” he said.


Both aim to deliver solutions, but they do so in different, but complementary, ways. 


Inside VMware’s ‘Integrated Containers’ and ‘Photon Platform’ 

Mike Adams, VMware’s director of product marketing, explained it this way: The two offer “very different approaches that depend on how an organization is developing applications and the specific needs of that application (speed, scale, API access, feature set, etc.).” 


Patel and Adams came together to give IDN a rich tour of both technologies.


With VMware vSphere Integrated Containers, apps using containers can go seamlessly and hassle-free from dev-test-production. “vSphere Integrated Containers enables IT teams to run traditional and containerized workloads side-by-side on existing infrastructure,” Patel told IDN.  


They provide developers the portability, speed, and agility developers love about containers, and IT Ops gets to come along for the ride. That’s because, with integrated containers, Adams added. “IT Ops gets management, security, and visibility they’re always looking for to run workloads in production,” he said.  


This ability for a container to bring together ‘dev’ and ‘ops’ is worth noting. “With our integrated containers, ‘containers’ become first-class citizens,” Patel explained. “IT Ops teams can take a container from dev all the way into production. And that’s big, because now we’re bridging the provisioning gap between dev and ops.”

As one example, Patel added that IT Ops can take forward the same code they receive from developers – without having to refactor anything. “What you see is what you get and that means IT Ops can manage them the same way they manage VMs,” he added. 


In other words, integrated containers deliver a big improvement from today’s typical situation, where developers using containers can get a controlled build for their environments but when it’s time to go to production IT Ops need to run the app in a traditional way.


VMware vSphere Integrated Containers also let customers easily extend existing vSphere environments to run container-based applications alongside their traditional apps, Adams added. The new technology is based on the foundation of VMware vSphere alongside innovations such as Project Bonneville (a native container solution for VMware’s hypervisor), Instant Clone, and Photon OS, he added.


How VMware’s new ‘integrated container’ architecture could prove a powerful ally to developers looking to support both cloud-first and hybrid infrastructure was explained in an earlier blog post by Ben Corrie, a principal investigator on Project Bonneville.

VMware vSphere Integrated Containers takes one of the most fundamental and valuable precepts of virtualization and applies it to containers. I like to call it “exploding the Linux container host.” The virtualization revolution brought flexible, abstract, dynamic resource boundaries to compute – carving up commodity hardware into simple fungible assets. Now we’re doing the same for containers with the “Virtual Container Host” concept.

VMware Photon Platform focuses on an environment running just containers-based apps and needing to do so with an optimized hypervisor plus a scalable, distributed, and multi-tenant control plane. 


In detail, Photon is a new infrastructure stack optimized for containers and cloud-native apps.  It provides all the benefits of a proven, secure hypervisor core with a scalable, distributed, and multi-tenant control plane. 


The platform is a collection of technologies that provide infrastructure with just the features needed to securely run containerized applications, controlled by a massively-scalable distributed management plane with an API-first design approach. Photon Platform benefits from foundation technologies of the VMware ESXi hypervisor, with a focus on scale and speed.  


According to Adams, VMware’s Photon Platform is composed of these main components:

  • Photon Machine: A secure and lightweight “microvisor” based on ESXi. It is optimized for container-based workloads.  This is used in combination with two other components.
  • Photon OS: A lightweight Linux operating system and container runtime that integrates with VMware infrastructure.
  • Photon Controller: A distributed high-scale control plane that includes Project Lightwave, an open source project that implements a full featured directory service for containers – and enable container directory, certificate and authentication services.

The term “microvisor” may have caught your attention (It did ours). The term was coined by a VMware CTO, Patel told IDN, and reflects a basic idea: “How do we extend hypervisor to support a container-based approach, where a microservices architecture will be the focus,” he added.


For security, VMware has baked in standards-based, enterprise-grade, identity and access management services targeting critical security, governance, and compliance challenges for cloud-native applications, Adams added.


The VMware Photon Platform use case is aimed at customers building large SaaS apps or other massively distributed apps and looking at green-field opportunities, Adams added.


VMware Says VMs and Containers – Better Together; Partners Agree

As different as the two technologies are, they will prove complementary. They also share a common goal according to Adams.  


“It is our view that virtual machines and containers are better together than apart. When virtual machines and containers are combined it allows VMware to provide enterprise-proven infrastructure services that enable our customers to run and operate containerized applications in production while also maintaining their existing IT standards,” he said.  That common goal, he added, is “to offer customers choice in how they want to deploy containers.”


For all the eye-popping technologies, having a strong ecosystem will be another key to VMware’s success, Adams added. On this front, so far; so good.

Fourteen vendors are supporting VMware’s cloud-native efforts including Confluent, CoreOS, DataStax, EMC, EnterpriseDB, HashiCorp, Hortonworks, Intel, MariaDB Corp., Mesosphere, MongoDB, NGINX, Pivotal and Redis Labs.