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How does Photon Controller compare to vSphere Integrated Containers?

Photon Controller and vSphere Integrated Containers both manage containers, but in different ways. What's the difference between these utilities, and when should you use them together?

It's easy to configure Photon OS for Photon Controller because they're both integral parts of VMware's Photon Platform,...

but they perform distinctly different functions. It's important to know which one you're working with before you proceed. Photon Controller is most closely related to vSphere Integrated Containers, in that both are container utilities. VSphere Integrated Containers allows the user to run containers as VMs, whereas Photon Controller runs containers in a VM.

VSphere Integrated Containers (VIC) was designed to use memory efficiently and improve management. Since containers are treated as individual VMs, released container resources always return to a pool for reuse. When containers are run on top of a VM, the VM always consumes resources, regardless of how many containers run on top of it. VIC can run directly on an ESXi host, or it can be deployed via vCenter Server.

VIC supports granular security and multi-tenancy through the Virtual Container Host concept, with each VCH assigned to a different user, department, developer and so on. VMs deployed as VCHs also benefit from VMware clustering technologies, such as Distributed Resource Scheduler or vSphere High Availability. Finally, the entire paradigm of "container as VM" ensures that VMs and containers are monitored and managed by the same tool set.

By comparison, Photon Controller pools ESXi hosts in order to stand up VMs for the purpose of running containers. Rather than use a platform like vCenter Server to manage containers, the Photon Controller interface provides direct container management information, which simplifies the environment. Photon Controller isn't limited by the 64-bit ESXi host cluster size limit, so administrators can pool as many ESXi hosts as desired -- perhaps even thousands of hosts -- to provide resources for container workloads.  Photon Controller handles multi-tenancy for containers and allows the user to deploy resources per-tenant or by container type, class, or use case. Finally, Photon Controller clustering supports a number of orchestration frameworks, including Apache Mesos, Kubernetes and Docker Swarm.

So, where does Photon OS fit into this equation? Photon OS is an underlying technology that supports both VIC and Photon Controller. Both VIC and Photon Controller are subtly different means of enabling containers in the VMware environment, but the Photon OS is the OS on which administrators actually deploy containers.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2017

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In what ways do you think Photon Controller is better at container management than VIC?
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