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This article is part of our Essential Guide: VMworld 2018 conference coverage

VMware partnerships to trump products at VMworld 2018

VMware's tight relationship with Pivotal could be a harbinger of more vendor partnership announcements than product releases or upgrades at VMworld 2018.

VMworld, VMware's annual conference, is traditionally where the company announces new products, as well as new features for existing products. Over the past few years, VMware partnerships with other vendors have taken up more of the conference's focus. Pivotal, a vendor that was originally spun out from VMware, is one partner to keep an eye on at VMworld 2018.

To understand why VMware partnerships -- especially with Pivotal -- are worth keeping an eye on, it's important to know what Pivotal brings to the table. Pivotal is best known for Cloud Foundry, an open source PaaS offering that the Cloud Foundry Foundation manages.

Pivotal provides Cloud Foundry, BOSH

The Cloud Foundry Foundation is an independent Linux Foundation Project. It owns the Cloud Foundry intellectual property and coordinates strategy regarding Cloud Foundry development among the member companies.

Pivotal is the primary commercial distributor of Cloud Foundry, and it wraps a great deal of functionality around the open source Cloud Foundry offering. Pivotal Application Service is one such component; it's a pre-canned PaaS environment for Java, .NET and Node.js developers.

Pivotal Container Service (PKS) is exactly what it sounds like -- a Kubernetes-as-a-service product -- and Pivotal Function Service is an AWS Lambda-like serverless offering. Pivotal also uses the open source orchestration tool BOSH to deploy and manage Cloud Foundry instances.

BOSH pushes OS images and a BOSH agent into VMs or containers. The agent then installs, monitors and manages applications and services in a manner similar to Puppet or Chef. BOSH also handles rolling updates, canary deployments and other orchestration tasks you would expect of a cloud-based workload orchestration tool. It's the backbone of Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

Pivotal also provides a marketplace for third-party applications, platforms and infrastructure products that is similar to the AWS Marketplace. Those who use Pivotal's Cloud Foundry distribution will find both APIs and a graphical interface that enable them to manage and orchestrate Cloud Foundry software and associated instances, as well as networking, security, monitoring and logging services.

In short, if you wanted to build your own cloud for cloud-native apps, Pivotal is one of the companies you should consider, especially given that it can deploy instances to VMware's vSphere, OpenStack and other major public cloud providers.

What Pivotal means for VMware partnerships

Products such as those from Pivotal give VMware a long-term reason to continue to exist. It's no secret that the rise of multi-cloud management tools is commoditizing infrastructure vendors. What VMware did to server and storage vendors, the new multi-cloud management startups are doing to VMware, service provider clouds and even the major public clouds.

As it becomes easier to spin up and manage workloads anywhere, the various infrastructure providers must compete on capabilities and cost. VMware has trouble competing with the major public cloud providers on cost -- they all have VMware beat on developer and end-user features.

Pivotal provides an easy-to-use orchestration layer for customers who want PaaS and a marketplace. Pivotal does this in a deterministic fashion, where infrastructure is defined as code and application deployment can be managed and orchestrated at scale according to generally accepted best practices for cloud-native applications.

The infrastructure as code part is of particular interest because it feeds into one of VMware's key differentiators: AppDefense. At RSA Conference 2018, VMware reinforced the importance of this by announcing that AppDefense added container security for Kubernetes, Docker, OpenShift and PKS.

Vendor sandwich

AppDefense and NSX are the two biggest differentiators VMware has. The major public cloud vendors do almost everything else that VMware does well enough to serve the overwhelming majority of customers. But VMware still has products and features that solve problems the big public cloud providers either can't solve or can't solve well. It will take public cloud providers many years to improve their offerings to the point that they can meet every edge case that VMware can.

The flip side of this particular coin is that there are some huge gaps in VMware's portfolio where the big public cloud providers do things that VMware doesn't, and those gaps are not edge cases; they're mainstream functionality items. Pivotal helps plug some of these gaps, and the deeper the integration VMware can boast, the more it looks, feels and operates like a single cohesive platform.

VMware's end goal is to be able to provide everything the big public cloud providers can -- either with its own products or via deep integration through VMware partnerships -- then layer best-in-the-industry security through NSX and AppDefense on top.

VMware is not going to bet the farm on Pivotal -- the company will work hard to integrate with a number of VMware partners -- but I expect to see Pivotal play an increasingly important role.

As a result of all of the above, I expect that VMworld 2018 will have few VMware product and feature announcements. Instead, there will be a raft of announcements about VMware partnerships and integrations. VMware is not going to bet the farm on Pivotal -- the company will work hard to integrate with a number of VMware partners -- but I expect to see Pivotal play an increasingly important role.

Pivotal's offerings are now mature. When combined with VMware's products, they create a compelling next-generation cloud that can live on premises without the data sovereignty concerns of the public cloud and with the next-generation security that VMware can bring to the table.

For organizations struggling to cope with new regulatory and compliance concerns, this combination could be a compelling reason not to move critical workloads into the public cloud. For the next few years, at least, that's music to VMware's ears.

This was last published in June 2018

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