During the week of August 26, VMware held its annual user conference, VMworld 2019, in San Francisco. VMworld draws tens of thousands of customers, partners and industry influencers for keynotes and other sessions on a diverse range of topics pertaining to virtualization, cloud infrastructure and application development, as well as a vibrant and diverse network of exhibiting vendors.
VMworld 2019 served as VMware’s platform to message how serious it is about establishing the same dominant presence in enterprise production container infrastructures that it has in virtualized infrastructures. This is critical for VMware because, since their emergence, containers have been often viewed as the potential virtualization machine, and as a result VMware killer due to their prevalence in cloud-native application development environments.
To support this strategy, VMware is evolving its portfolio to enable customers to “build, run and manage any application, across any cloud and any device.” While much execution remains, VMware has undertaken several internal development initiatives and even more acquisitions (more than a dozen of which have been announced or closed since the start of 2018).
One of the headlining VMworld 2019 announcements was Project Pacific, a VMware effort to fully support Kubernetes and container applications within vSphere itself by running Kubernetes services on ESXi and supporting management via vCenter. In vision, Project Pacific will provide the best of both worlds – support for agile and lightweight Kubernetes containers for cloud-native application developers, alongside the familiarity of vSphere for IT administrators. It will be included in the next major release of vSphere, slated for C1Q20.
Accompanying Project Pacific is VMware’s announcement of Tanzu Mission Control, a software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based application that will provide centralized management of Kubernetes clusters regardless of where they run (including non-vSphere environments). Project Pacific and Tanzu Mission Control will coexist under VMware’s new Tanzu-branded container management capability suite.
VMware’s Tanzu announcement follows its December 2018 acquisition of Heptio, a startup that provides services and support aimed at easing the shift to Kubernetes for enterprises. Notably, Heptio boasts co-founders who were involved in the initial development of Kubernetes at Google. Tanzu also follows VMware’s announcement the week prior to VMworld of its plans to fully acquire Pivotal. VMware intends to bring the Pivotal Container Service (PKS) enterprise Kubernetes platform for public and private cloud environments under its umbrella (PKS provides the foundation for Tanzu), to gain access to Pivotal’s close relationships with developers, and to tap Pivotal’s expertise in consulting around building and deploying cloud-native applications.
Complementing VMware’s container-related announcements, from the perspective of enabling multi-cloud environments, are enhancements to its vRealize Automation 8.0 and vRealize Operations 8.0 software. Updates are designed to streamline administrators’ abilities to plan capacity, manage performance, troubleshoot and meet compliance requirements across hybrid cloud environments. VMware’s CloudHealth and Wavefront acquisitions are being further integrated into the software suite to provide deeper monitoring, reporting and analytics capabilities. For instance, VMworld 2019 saw the announcement of CloudHealth for hybrid environments, and automated discovery of application and infrastructure components of Kubernetes environments via Wavefront. VMware’s objective, ultimately, is to provide as autonomous and intent-driven a multi-cloud infrastructure as possible.
With this goal in mind, VMware is working to simplify hybrid and multi-cloud mobility with its HCX platform. Through HCX, VMware has introduced a pre-integrated Cloud Migration solution, currently available on VMware Cloud on AWS. According to VMware, HCX now allows push-button migration and for VMware Cloud on AWS instances running in different AWS Regions to be connected. It also improves scalability with enhanced Elastic vSAN support. VMware stated intent to add support for other workflows on VMware Cloud on AWS, and to add HCX support for additional platforms including VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts and VMware Cloud on Dell EMC.
Several networking-related announcements geared towards enhanced automation and security round out VMware’s hybrid and multi-cloud related announcements. These include an automated load balancing capability (building from its June 2019 acquisition of Avi Networks) and enhanced network analytics and security capabilities through its NSX and vRealize Network Insight software. NSX’s microsegmentation capabilities have long been a differentiator, and VMware is taking a notable step towards becoming a bona fide cyber-security vendor with its planned acquisition of endpoint security software provider Carbon Black, announced the week preceding VMworld 2019.
Evaluator Group believes container technology is quickly evolving from a non-production developer tool, into an important component of modern production infrastructure stacks. During this shift, IT operations will need to plan for the adoption of containers into the data center environment. For its part, VMware has talked about supporting containers for years, but the center-stage focus on containers at VMworld 2019 messages to the market a deeper level of commitment. It also attests to VMware’s maturity from the point server virtualization software provider that it once was.
Where previously VMware relied on positioning new capabilities, like its vSAN software-defined storage and acquired NSX acquired software-defined networking technologies, as feature-driven extensions of its core vSphere platform, VMware is embracing the shift to containers for both virtualized and non-VMware-based production environments. VMware sits as a company working to limit its ties to a singular specific technology, in the interest of capitalizing on the market shift to containers. vSphere CTO Kit Colbert called the current evolution of vSphere the most important in the past ten years, and CEO Pat Gelsinger described the market shift to containers as the most significant since the shift to Java.
Of course, containers will be one component (albeit important, based on current market indicators) of the multi-cloud environments that have quickly become today’s norm – which, naturally, VMware and its peers will need to support.
We believe that it is important to understand VMware’s evolving go-to-market strategy. During a session for analysts, Gelsinger stated that VMware would gradually move to a subscription-based pricing model for all software, conforming to new application buying patterns where customers are now expecting subscription pricing for new applications and workloads. They will also pursue partnerships with vendors who now have well established subscription pricing models such as HPE with GreenLake.
Along with the move to subscription-based pricing will be a move from products to platforms. “Don’t buy the pieces, buy the solution like VCF – it’s easier.” All of this means that VMware customers will be increasingly offered suites of integrated software applications that can be acquired on a subscription basis, making them easier to consume by customers and easier to resell by partners.
VMware’s vision of providing a ubiquitous fabric for application development and delivery that is self-driving and secure is sound a steady stream of acquisitions, and development to put the pieces in place required to execute on this vision. The company’s level of support for non-VMware environments, how much it will have to re-architect vSphere to support containers, to what degree this will impact existing customers, and how successful it will be in simplifying container and multi-cloud environments are still to be seen.