VMware Shows Off Shiny New Container Technology In Push To Attract Cloud Developers

VMware's server virtualization business is facing a potential threat from containers from Docker and others, which have become a wildly popular way for developers to speed deployment of apps to the cloud.

This week at its VMworld conference, VMware gave customers a detailed look at vSphere Integrated Containers, its name for technology it's working on that lets containers run inside virtual machines. VMware says this approach is best for enterprises that need to ensure that containers are secure and easily manageable.

VMware has two technology previews that form the basis of its container strategy: Project Bonneville, which lets apps run on containers inside of virtual machines; and Project Photon, a new Linux-based operating system that's designed for running apps in containers.

[Related: VMware Says Its Hybrid Cloud Solves Tough Tech Challenges Better Than Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure]

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In a news conference earlier this week, Kit Colbert, vice president and chief technology officer of cloud-native apps at VMware, said Photon uses a "new, lightweight form of virtualization" and is "parallel and complementary" to its vSphere server virtualization software, but also a separate and distinct offering.

Colbert said Photon lets developers build "cloud native apps" -- which are apps designed to be available all the time, to scale up and down based on demand levels, and which take advantage of microservices that can be broken up into small chunks.

Photon is about 25 MB in size and uses VMware's Instant Clones technology to get a new VM powered on and running in under a second, according to Colbert. Photon supports Docker, Rocket and Garden, a container technology used by Pivotal's Cloud Foundry Platform-as-a-Service.

VMware's response to the rise of other popular technologies like OpenStack and Hadoop is to integrate them to run on vSphere, and it's taking a similar approach with containers. But in the VMware channel, which grew up focused on infrastructure, containers aren't yet much of a play, several partners told CRN.

One VMware partner said he's somewhat skeptical about the vendor's motivations for vSphere Integrated Containers.

"Project Photon seems pretty interesting, but I do question the validity of using containers on top of a hypervisor," said the partner, who didn't want to be named. "I think this is more a way for VMware to attempt to remain relevant in the container world, but time will tell if it will be adopted."

Colbert, in the news conference, said the benefits customers will get from running Photon are similar to those of standard vSphere server virtualization. "No one needs virtualization to run an app -- the point is to get server consolidation and operational benefits," he said.

VSphere Integrated Containers are akin to "a new model of virtualization where you're not managing the VM, but the VM will be there for the benefits," said Colbert.

Colbert said VMware is working with Pivotal to integrate Photon with Cloud Foundry, a Platform-as-a-Service that lets developers build cloud-native apps. VMware is planning to offer a bundle of Photon and Cloud Foundry under a single SKU, he said.

VMware is also open sourcing its Photon Controller, after doing the same in May with an authentication technology called Lightwave. VMware is planning to open source more container related technologies "in the next few months," Colbert said.

"We understand that open source is really, really critical to our customers, and we want to engage with that community," said Colbert.