VMware and Pivotal team up with Google and join the CNCF

If proof is required as to how big a deal Kubernetes actually is, a quick look at the CNCF will answer all your questions. An offshoot of The Linux Foundation, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation has effectively brought every major software vendor under one banner, and the list keeps growing. The CNCF announced two new members at VMworld 2017: VMware and Pivotal. Both companies signed up at the platinum level, which is the highest and most expensive “membership” available at the CNCF.

Now, Pivotal has a lot to do with cloud computing and is already involved helping organizations make the transition. For VMware, however, this looks a lot like throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. Before cloud computing and containers, VMware pretty much revolutionized the industry with its hardware virtualization.

VMware and Pivotal join the new world order

VMware and Pivotal

When containers first started becoming popular, a lot of questions revolved around whether they would replace virtual machines. Those questions don’t need to be asked anymore. While VMs will probably always find use in the enterprise, containers and the cloud aren’t going anywhere, either. VMware also made its cloud acceptance clear by partnering with Amazon Web Services last year. That alliance has resulted in the VMware Cloud on AWS announced at VMworld 2017.

Amazon Web Services finally took the plunge after it probably started feeling left out, and with it completed the CNCF’s collection of all major public cloud vendors. If this were the game of monopoly, that would pretty much be like one player buying all the railroad propoerties and getting the bonus.

If joining the CNCF and cozying up to Google is how you get closer to Kubernetes, then that’s exactly what VMware and Pivoltal are doing. Apart from joining the CNCF, both Pivotal and VMware also announced a new container service in collaboration with Google called Pivotal Container Service (PKS, for some reason. Maybe the “K” is for Kubo or Kubernetes). This service is a commercial version of Project Kubo, which is an open source project for managing Kubernetes between VMware’s on-premises and Google’s cloud.

Production-ready Kubernetes

Project Kubo was a collaboration between Google and Pivotal that delivered a “BOSH-managed” Kubernetes platform. BOSH is an open source tool chain for release engineering, deployment, and lifecycle management of large-scale distributed services. It has been the cornerstone of Cloud Foundry since 2011. With PKS, customers get all of the software-defined infrastructure from VMware, automation and orchestration from BOSH, with an additional layer called Kubernetes on top.

Production-ready Kubernetes seems to be what the trio is after, and while Kubernetes is without a doubt the most prominent project in the CNCF, there are still questions about using it in production. PKS is all about automating the infrastructure that supports containers and lets Kubernetes do its thing. This also means hybrid containerization is supported as PKS will integrate with Google’s own cloud container service. It’s also “upstream” and will always use and include the latest stable release of Kubernetes.

On-premises containers

This isn’t just about Kubernetes management or hybrid containerization. It’s also about giving users an option to use Kubernetes on premises. Since VMware is in on the mix and adding value with its vSphere policies and NSX-derived networking isolation that allows for simpler network and security provisioning, PKS is a great option for users who’d rather not pay a cloud vendor to handle their infrastructure needs. Additionally, PKS also uses VMware’s VSAN for persistent container storage, which also runs on vSphere. The new service also offers constant compatibility with Google Container Engine (GKE).

DevOps isn’t the easiest thing for Ops teams, especially since a lot of them aren’t used to cloud-native tools. On-premises Kubernetes, overseen by a familiar platform like vSphere, puts the Ops team back in the game in an environment that they’re familiar with. PKS gives developers deploying containers the freedom from provisioning network IP addresses and firewall rules that impede agility.

PKS also features a jointly developed version of the Open Services Broker API. This allows all cloud abstractions to share data services and maintain common service catalogs. The offering is expected to become available before the endo of the year and will ship as a standalone product that can integrate with Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF) and VMware’s software-defined datacenter (SDDC) infrastructure.

Kubernetes gatekeepers

Sanjay Poonen from VMware has said he was seeing large customers “thinking about containers with Cloud Foundry at the same time that Kubernetes was becoming popular.” The reason those customers were thinking about containers is probably because of how popular Kubernetes was getting in the first place.

VMware and Pivotal

The thing about powerful open source code like Linux and Kubernetes is there are always enterprises looking to gain on the momentum and looking for ways to commercialize a product that is free for use. At the same time, an open source community isn’t exactly something an enterprise-level company would feel comfortable depending on for updates.

This is exactly why the CNCF came into existence — to try to create some order around the mad rush to create a commercial version of Kubernetes. The scene now, however, looks like “if you’re not on the CNCF, you’re nobody,” which is what’s probably driving the new platinum memberships every month; these memberships require a substantial commitment toward CNCF projects including both time and money.

Brand-new technology, same old environment

As more and more organizations move from traditional application development practices and try to become “high-performing” organizations, automation is probably the most valuable thing any vendor can offer them. Tools they’re already familiar with are even more valuable, however, and VMware has loads of those to offer. Bringing new technology like Kubernetes and containers to platforms that are already enterprise level is a great way to get more legacy organizations to take the plunge.

Like the many DevOps poster children out there that reinvented themselves, a lot of organizations aren’t adventurous enough to go on that hell ride, or just don’t have the expertise to mess around with containers yet. That’s what everyone from Oracle to CoreOS to Microsoft and VMware are trying to cash in on, and like every other battle in the enterprise right now, the customer comes out the winner.

How Google fits in the picture

We all know that Dell-EMC owns both VMware and Pivotal, and for the uninitiated, EMC bought Pivotal labs, launched Pivotal with VMware and then got bought over by Dell for around $67 billion. So we get how those two joined up, but Google isn’t as much a stranger as we think. There actually is some history here since Diane Greene, who is in charge of Google Cloud, was one of the founders who helped launch VMware in 1998.

A year after joining Google, Greene brought in Sam Ramji (CEO of Cloud Foundry) as VP of product management. Sam Ramji was quoted saying they were thinking about how to get Cloud Foundry to work with Kubernetes even when he was CEO, so this project has definitely been in the pipeline for a while. Additionally, this shows that while Kubernetes may be cloud native, it’s also relevant for on-premises datacenters. When you put VMware and Pivotal and Google’s expertise with containers together, you get an enterprise-class container creation, deployment and management system that a lot of people are going to be interested in.

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