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VMware And Pivotal: What Would A Merger Mean For The Cloud Foundry/Kubernetes Debate

A leading Pivotal and VMware partner sees potential to bring closer together the competing platforms, and to expand market reach for both Pivotal Cloud Foundry and the Pivotal Container Service (PKS) joint project with VMware

Large enterprises looking to digitally transform their businesses often consider two cloud-native application development platforms: Cloud Foundry or Kubernetes.

Cloud Foundry is more prescriptive; Kubernetes, the leading container orchestrator, is more customizable. Both open source technologies deliver powerful environments to scale apps across any cloud.

Pivotal Software is often synonymous with Pivotal Cloud Foundry, its leading distribution of the Platform-as-a-Service, but in recent years the San Francisco-based company been treading deep into Kubernetes-as-a-Service waters.

Much of that project has come through its work with VMware, a sister company under the Dell Technologies umbrella, with which Pivotal has jointly developed Pivotal Container Service, PKS.

[Related: Pivotal CFO: We Will Continue To Aggressively Invest In Partners As A Public Company]

Now, as VMware looks like it may be ready to acquire Pivotal, a company which it once spun-out, Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes look destined for a closer relationship, and Pivotal Cloud Foundry and PKS could expand their market reach as a result.

Solstice, a Chicago-headquartered technology and innovation consulting firm, has a front-row view of the PaaS vs KaaS (Kubernetes-as-a-Service) debate as a partner of both Pivotal and VMware.

"In general, there's always going to be two camps," Solstice CTO Mike Koleno told CRN. "But if you zoom in on the Pivotal and VMware relationship, as well as the products themselves, there could be a blurring of the lines as far as PaaS and Kubernetes. I can see some joint functionality being critical in differentiating against their competition on both platforms."

Despite its ramping commitment to Kubernetes, the Pivotal brand is still almost exclusively associated in the market with Cloud Foundry, a project it spearheaded and released to the Cloud Foundry Foundation. VMware can help Pivotal break free of that, Koleno said.

"Putting the Pivotal platform, whether Cloud Foundry or PKS, all of it behind VMware makes a ton of sense and alleviates that brand connection," he said. "It allows VMware to say we have a newer set of platforms that cater to different appetites."

Pivotal's foray into Kubernetes has not been isolated to its work on PKS with VMware and Google.

The company, which went public last year, recently introduced a version of its Pivotal Application Service built on top of Kubernetes, rather than Diego, the native Cloud Foundry container runtime. VMware championed that project as a close partner.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry has swapped out Diego for Kubernetes (as has the downstream Cloud Foundry project) and that work portends tighter integrations down the road, whether a deal with VMware materializes or not, Koleno said.

Alongside VMware, Pivotal is "promoting the Kubernetes project, looking to elevate Kubernetes as a run time for Cloud Foundry, and they're adding PaaS on top of Kubernetes," he said.

If VMware buys Pivotal, as looks likely based on disclosures to the SEC and Dell's controlling interest in both companies, more cross-connections between Pivotal Cloud Foundry and PKS can dramatically extend the market reach for both products.

VMware has pulled off some highly strategic acquisitions of late, Koleno said, from CloudHealth to Heptio to, more recently, Bitnami. But Pivotal might be its greatest coup.

PKS would benefit from the simplicity of marketing the managed Kubernetes service as a single-company solution as it competes in a hot market against all major cloud providers and independent container vendors.

And Pivotal Cloud Foundry would gain greater access, with a massive new salesforce behind it, to VMware's install base, which includes just about every company in the Fortune 500, Koleno said.

Most of that VMware customer base is not operating in a cloud-native way today, he said.

With leading PaaS and KaaS platforms under a VMware banner, however, the company can leverage its name, so-trusted with customers it has been doing business with for more than a decade, and present two solutions to begin their digital transformation.

But Koleno reminds that just because the two technologies could come closer under the same corporate banner, it doesn't mean they'll ever merge entirely, as they solve different problems.

"You're going to always have the debate as to how much operational customization you want to take on as part of the service and platform we provide to the application developers across the enterprise," he said.

For those who want to abstract away as much as possible, make the process as easy as possible, they're going to "centralize their strategy off a PaaS life experience," Koleno said.

And organizations that want an extra 10 percent ability to customize, and to have direct access to functionality that is abstracted away in Cloud Foundry, Kubernetes will likely be their platform of choice, he said.

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