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The rise of containers could mean a decline in VM popularity. However, if VMware can find a way to integrate the open source container platform Kubernetes with its vSphere or vCenter products, the vendor might have an opportunity to stay relevant in a shifting market landscape.
Kubernetes has emerged as the platform of choice for managing container workloads. VMware has abandoned its plans for the Photon (container) platform in favor of focusing on vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC). VMware also codeveloped Pivotal Container Service (PKS) with Pivotal and used parts of Photon to create the service.
VMware could integrate more of its products with Kubernetes in a handful of ways. Specifically, it could optimize vSphere or vCenter to work with Kubernetes or integrate PKS with Kubernetes.
VMware vSphere-integrated Kubernetes
To start, VMware could simply add a Kubernetes interface on top of VIC.
VIC delivers Docker containers as VMs. With VIC, containers get VM-level isolation but keep fast instantiation through rapid cloning of those VMs.
VIC treats a whole vSphere cluster as a single Docker host and delivers cluster scheduling and high availability through an underlying vSphere HA and Distributed Resource Scheduler cluster. Kubernetes aims to run the same container scheduler on multiple platforms.
The VIC product page doesn't contain the word Kubernetes, but that doesn't mean VIC can't work with Kubernetes or that VMware can't combine Kubernetes with VIC in the future. If nothing else, VMware could find marketing value in optimizing VIC to operate beneath Kubernetes.
Kubernetes and vCenter
VMware might have an opportunity to contribute to the open source Kubernetes. The container management platform could also manage vSphere clusters and their VMs.
Kubernetes and vCenter deliver a similar experience. The most significant difference between the two management platforms is the level of detail and attention: Kubernetes manages container instances as an interchangeable group, whereas vSphere treats each VM as unique.
Kubernetes uses stateful sets, which means that it can handle scheduling objects required to retain data through power cycling and other lifecycle activities. Kubernetes also works with storage plugins to manage the persistent storage for these stateful sets.
With Kubernetes' networking plugins, vSphere native networking and NSX should easily work with Kubernetes. To mitigate gaps, VMware could invest in a Kubernetes interface to run alongside its other interfaces in the same way that its Web Client interface and vSphere (HTML5) client coexist.
The future of VMware and Kubernetes
VMware and Pivotal codeveloped PKS. Despite the fact that both are VMware container platforms, PKS and VIC currently don't integrate and likely won't in the future. However, PKS could provide the key to getting a Kubernetes interface on top of VIC.
Hopefully, VMware announces a marriage between VIC and PKS at VMworld 2019 in August. VMware last released a new version of VIC in March 2019.
VMware hasn't announced any radical plans to cash in on the Kubernetes adoption wave. However, it wouldn't be shocking to see the vendor deepen a connection between vSphere and Kubernetes. Future integration between VMware products and Kubernetes could lead to exciting developments.