VMware's Photon Platform Looks To Divert A Container Disruption

In its latest move seeking to establish harmonious coexistence with Docker, VMware on Wednesday released a cloud-building solution focused on delivering application container technologies to developers.

Revealed in Barcelona at the VMworld Europe conference, the virtualization leader's Photon Platform offers an Infrastructure-as-a-Service implementation geared for developers looking to employ modern methods and tools on private clouds.

At a time when application containers, as popularized by Docker, are poised to disrupt the virtual machine paradigm, the VMware product is "purpose-built for cloud native applications with natively-integrated enterprise container infrastructure support," blogged Jared Rosoff, VMware's chief technologist for cloud-native applications.

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The new platform delivers Kubernetes, a container orchestration technology open sourced by Google, as a cloud-based service.

Unlike VMware's flagship vSphere virtualization platform, Photon Platform is focused on delivering services, like the ability to provision Kubernetes clusters, to software developers, rather than private cloud infrastructure to systems administrators, according to Rosoff.

"It's an absolutely exciting release from VMware," said William Bell, vice president of products at PhoenixNAP.

The VMware partner, a managed services and cloud operator based in Phoenix, has been working closely with VMware on a sister project called vSphere Integrated Containers, Bell told CRN.

"Our customers are demanding development tools and platform services," he said. "Projects like Photon are delivering enterprise-ready container support for the undisputed current leader in container orchestration, Kubernetes."

Photon's support of VMware's ESX hypervisor, as well as integrations with VSAN and NSX—VMware's software-defined storage and networking solutions respectively—enable container-focused solutions that deliver next-generation security and network services, Bell told CRN.

Many industry prognosticators have said Docker containers and the vast ecosystem that has emerged around them, including Kubernetes, directly threaten VMware's traditional virtualization software business.

Containers are far less resource intensive—unlike virtual machines they don’t need to run separate instances of a bulky operating system. They're also extremely portable, making it easy to transport applications between disparate environments.

But VMware is looking to circumvent the container disruption by assimilating the rival technology.

For partners like PhoenixNAP, that means they don't have to choose one of those technologies over the other.

PhoenixNAP operates a public cloud platform built on vSphere, Bell told CRN.

With the new Photon Platform, the provider can leverage Docker and provide to its customer's integrated native containers that avoid "the need for thick VMs that can degrade performance in a production environment," he said.

Alex Polvi, CEO of CoreOS, the startup behind Tectonic, the first commercial distribution of Kubernetes, told CRN he's excited to see a leader like VMware support the open source project.

"There's massive interest in the enterprise customers we speak to around using Kubernetes for container orchestration and most ask us how it will work with VMs," Polvi told CRN.

Those enterprise customers are investigating potential transformations of their data centers using "Kubernetes as a baseline to their modern application infrastructure," he said.