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Next-generation virtual machines will help power multicloud computing

Hypervisor technology has been one of the building blocks of cloud computing from the start. In recent years, though, this method of “virtualization” to separate a computer’s operating system and applications from the underlying hardware has begun to feel more like a legacy approach than a platform for developing tomorrow’s sophisticated cloud applications — containerized, serverless and so on.

Virtual machines are here to stay

Nevertheless, hypervisors — and the virtual machines they run — are more popular than ever, while Kubernetes-based containerization has barely encroached in any significant way on their footprint in today’s private, public, hybrid and multiclouds.

VMs may turn out to be as integral to future multiclouds as they’ve been to the development of virtualized enterprise computing fabrics these past 20 years. And VMs may be able to continue delivering value in place, rather than after a costly migration, refactoring and conversion process. Indeed, VMware — the pioneering provider in the hypervisor market — recognizes that VMs may have a very long shelf life in enterprise clouds and that migrations and conversions to containerized Kubernetes microservices are by no means inevitable.

As Mark Lohmeyer, senior vice president of the company’s Cloud Platform Business Unit, stated on theCUBE last week at VMworld, “I think one of the really interesting opportunities that we’ve opened up for customers with VMware Cloud on AWS is you don’t necessarily have to refactor everything just to be able to get to the public cloud. We could help them migrate to the public cloud very quickly without requiring any changes if they don’t want to. And then when they’re there, they can modernize at their own pace based on the needs of the business.”

Enterprises are doubling down on VMs

This week in a special edition of theCUBE Insights (below), Dave Vellante and I discussed the increasing coexistence of VMs and containers in many enterprise clouds. Vellante presented recent survey research in which 4,500 VMware customers were asked about their spending for hypervisor, container and other software-defined data center infrastructure.

The study, by Enterprise Technology Research, found a growing number of enterprise information technology environments, or “shared accounts,” where hypervisor-based VMs and container-based microservices coexist. In other words, there was no evidence of containers killing VMs or even precipitating any mass migration away from VMs in most enterprise IT organizations.

There’s even evidence that VMs are doing more than simply holding on in enterprise clouds — in fact, they appear to be more popular than ever.  Over the past year, said Lohmeyer, “[VMware has] increased the number of [VMware Cloud on AWS] customers by 4x [and] increased the numbers of VMs on the service by 9x.”

What that means is that the average VMware customer has more than doubled down its investment in VM-based workloads. That does not sound like a technology on the verge of extinction.

VMs are becoming integrated into containerized fabrics

Enterprises are in no hurry to rip out a perfectly useful technology — hypervisor-based VMs — that has been central to their computer architectures for many years. Wikibon believes that the convergence of VMs and containers will continue to deepen. Coexistence and synergistic co-dependence of these technologies in hybridized platforms will be the wave of the future.

In fact, VMs may soon become an integral component of Kubernetes-dominated cloud-native platforms, providing stricter multitenant application isolation at the hardware level. With that in mind, we can put VMware’s top recent announcement — the Tanzu Portfolio — into its proper evolutionary context.

Still in limited preview, Tanzu gives VMs a new lease on life in the world of containerized cloud microservices. It embeds a Kubernetes runtime into the control plane of a future release of vSphere’s hypervisor.

Under Tanzu’s core “Project Pacific,” VMware customers will be able to realize the following benefits from hybrid deployments of containers in VMs:

  • More robust VMs and containers: Tanzu’s new native pods will combine the best properties of Kubernetes pods and VMs to boost the runtime’s VM isolation, security and performance on mission-critical workloads.
  • More centralized administration of VMs and containers: Tanzu’s new console will provide cloud-application administrators with a single point of control for monitoring, managing and enforcing policies consistently on workloads across all VMs and containers in Kubernetes clusters throughout hybrid and multiclouds.
  • More unified DevOps workflows for VM-based and containerized apps: Tanzu will present a consistent view of Kubernetes constructs in vSphere. It will use Kubernetes application programming interfaces to access VMware’s software-defined data center virtualization infrastructure. It will also enable DevOps professionals to use vSphere tools to deliver applications to VSphere VMs and Kubernetes clusters throughout the multicloud.

If VMware were the only vendor building VM/container coexistence, its strategy could easily be dismissed as a case of trying to hedge against obsolescence in the face of the Kubernetes juggernaut. But in fact, there are VM/container coexistence initiatives throughout the cloud market.

Perhaps the most widely supported of these is the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s KubeVirt, which orchestrates traditional VM-based workloads alongside container-based workloads and present a common development environments for building both types of cloud applications. There are also Amazon Web Services Inc.’s Firecracker and FargateGoogle LLC’s gVisor and Intel Corp.’s Kata containers, all of which support multitenant workload isolation and sandboxing for containers nested in VMs.

Kubernetes is additive to VMs in cloud platform providers’ growth paths

VM/container coexistence can ensure that customers are able to add on containerized services to their cloud investments when they’re ready. This creates a situation where many enterprises may choose to deploy VMs indefinitely without moving to Kubernetes.

That would be problematic for vendors such as VMware, who have a huge installed base of hypervisor customers that may balk at the need for a Kubernetes deployment. There’s an obvious self-defeating risk implicit in VMware’s Tanzu strategy of deploying a cloud-native application platform in which VMs and containers can coexist indefinitely: If VMware’s customers can protect their investments in vSphere’s hypervisor and VMs, the company may inadvertently slow its customers’ migration to a completely Kubernetes-dominated application backplane.

Nevertheless, VMware’s strategic imperative is to migrate customers rapidly to Kubernetes-capable backplanes, such as the future vSphere with “Project Pacific,” so that it can cross-sell those accounts on its growing multicloud solution portfolio focused on containerized applications. Considered in this light, it’s crystal-clear why practically every other recent VMware announcement had a strong Kubernetes focus:

  • The Pivotal acquisition gives VMware a strong Kubernetes distribution and tooling.
  • The new Cloud Migration Services, CloudHealth Hybrid and Hybrid Cloud Operations tools enable automation of the entire Kubernetes deployment and management lifecycle.
  • The latest updates to vSphere and vSAN add value for Kubernetes clusters running across software-defined data centers and multicloud storage.
  • The beta of “Project Galleon” spawns a marketplace of containerized application content for rapid deployment across Kubernetes clusters in the multicloud.

Wikibon recommendations for enterprise cloud and DevOps professionals

VM/container coexistence makes good sense. It combines the hardware-level workload isolation and cross-platform portability of hypervisor technology with the component-oriented loose coupling and complex orchestration features of Kubernetes.

Wikibon recommends that VMware customers participate in the limited preview of Tanzu Portfolio’s “Project Pacific.” Participants’ chief evalution criterion should be whether this technology, whose general availability is still indefinite, can be useful in VM/container coexistence, convergence and migration initiatives.

For those VMware customers that are already well underway with Kubernetes deployments in multiclouds, this future solution, in conjunction with new ESXi native pods, could help boost security and performance on mission-critical workloads involving containers and VMs.

With regard to the other VMware announcements related to Kubernetes, Wikibon encourages enterprises to evaluate those as soon as possible, since they provide a comprehensive suite for the most demanding multicloud DevOps requirements. These announcements reinforce what Wikibon has been saying about VMware’s central role in the multicloud arena.

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