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Understanding the significance of the VMware Photon Platform

VMware has faced stiff competition from Microsoft and open source providers, forcing the company to address gaps in its software. Thanks to Photon Platform, VMware may just come out on top.

For many years I have said in order for VMware to survive it needs to be more than just a hypervisor. VMware has needed to end its interest in infrastructure at providing an environment for operating systems to run and start believing that its purpose is to provide a top-notch environment for applications to run. Today, VMware has finally started to adopt this strategy by creating its own Linux distribution, dubbed Photon Platform. Currently, its purpose is to provide Lightwave -- a container management system that allows VMware to challenge the likes of Docker and CoreOS. Lightwave is only the beginning for the VMware Photon Platform.

To start understanding why Photon matters, we need to understand why diversification is necessary for VMware. ESXi is irrationally expensive, especially when KVM is perfectly usable for every workload that the majority of businesses have and it's free.

VMware's management tools are dated and, with the retirement of the C# client, reliance on the Web Client has gone backward in usability. VMware's management interfaces get chunkier and more esoteric as you add on features from other VMware offerings that provide self-service and hybrid cloud capabilities. This is especially true once you've seen how intuitive the commercial OpenStack distributions or proprietary rivals, like Yottabyte, have become.

In short, VMware's vSphere and vRealize applications are overpriced, aren't much easier to use than the competition and are a pain to install, configure and maintain. Furthermore, they generally do not deliver adequate value when you consider that the investment in open source skills and training also delivers containerization and the Linux operating system functionally free of charge.

The VMware Photon Platform begins to address these gaps. Suddenly, VMware is providing an operating system and containerization. Rumor has it that in 2016 VMware will finally do something useful to foster an app store ecosystem it might actually be proud of; there are also massive management interface updates planned.

Investments in Photon are driven by internal needs and the need to compete. VMware is moving away from offering its applications solely on Windows server and is, instead, providing them as virtual appliances that can handle the same scale as Windows server versions did. This will ensure that the VMware Photon Platform development can be counted on to be a long term feature of the company's offerings.

It took some time, but VMware's finally figured out that it can't ride high on its near-monopoly of the virtualization space. VMware has never particularly feared open source competitors because it hasn't traditionally been well-capitalized. Even when open source offerings are feature-rich enough to start making real gains, there isn't a single vendor pushing open source formats whose sales and marketing team can truly challenge VMware. For open source to be a real threat, VMware would have to fall behind significantly.

Open source isn't the only problem, however, and VMware knows this. Microsoft's Hyper-V has struggled to attract much initial loyalty from users, mostly because System Center Virtual Machine Manager is just plain awful to use. This started to change with the introduction of the Azure Pack, which provides incredible private cloud utility and brings the Azure Marketplace into the on-premises data center. Between Microsoft applications, containers, hypervisors, management tools and more, Microsoft already gets the lion's share of margin. VMware's goal is to replace Microsoft as the top dog or, at the very least, prevent VMware users from switching to Microsoft. VMware Photon Platform joins the company's arsenal of programs -- including ESXi hypervisor, vSphere and vRealize -- designed to accomplish this goal.

With these changes, VMware's hopes to maintain its reputation of being a cut above Microsoft in regards to administrative and user experience and to surpass that of open source rivals, all while being backed by VMware's massive sales and marketing apparatus.

In short, VMware is back and, with Photon Platform in the mix, it's once again playing for keeps.

Next Steps

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