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New VMware VIC components set to challenge Docker containers

VMware has introduced two new components, Harbor for container images and Admiral for managing containers, to vSphere Integrated Containers.

Although VMware vSphere Integrated Containers isn't generally available yet, it's still getting additional features. VMware is building out a collection of supporting components that simplifies using containers on top of vSphere. This collection of optional components adds functionality to the basic vSphere Integrated Containers platform.

VMware has also embraced an open source model for vSphere Integrated Containers and these supporting components. VSphere Integrated Containers (VIC), Admiral and Harbor are all posted on GitHub, the public home to many open source projects. This open source approach is new for VMware. It is quite alien compared to the usual commercial software development model used by enterprise software vendors.

What is VMware VIC?

First, a quick refresher: VMware VIC is a collection of software that allows container applications to be deployed. Each is a VM on a vSphere cluster. The vSphere cluster is managed by vCenter and may also host conventional VMs, such as your existing server estate.

VMware clearly intends for their container platform to compete with Docker's commercial offerings.

VMware VIC provides the Docker API to developers, who can then deploy their container workloads. Each deployed container is a VM with the Docker image layered into the VM. The individual VMs are created from a running source VM using VMware Instant Clone technology in a fraction of a second.

VIC is for users who want the same underlying platform for both their VM-based applications and container applications. VMware's second container platform is the Photon Platform. Photon Platform is designed for dedicated physical servers that will run only containers. Photon Platform is for much larger container deployments than VMware VIC.

VMware clearly intends for their container platform to compete with Docker's commercial offerings. The basic Docker engine -- the software -- is free to use, but Docker has commercial software that is useful to manage container-based applications at medium to large scale.

VMware takes a different approach; VIC and its supporting projects are available to customers as part of a vSphere Enterprise Plus license. VMware has no need to charge more for these container platform components; their revenue comes from vSphere sales. Docker Datacenter also overlaps with features of other VMware products. VMware Log Insight, the vRealize Suite and NSX all provide VMware customers with some of the functionality of Docker Datacenter.

VMware Harbor is a safe place to keep your container images. It is a counterpart to the Docker Trusted Registry, a private version of the public Docker Hub. Container images are built by software developers; they contain the application software. Most likely, you want to retain control of this software and, consequently, want a container image repository inside your data center.

Unpacking new container components

Harbor is also the source for deploying containers into production, which is another reason to keep it nice and close to your on-premises container platform. Harbor provides the same interfaces as the Docker registry, so developers are immediately familiar with how it works. Built container images can be pushed to Harbor and then pulled onto VMware VIC for deployment for test or production. Images can be tagged and versioned to support software development lifecycles and updating production container deployments.

VMware Admiral is a web interface for managing containers. If Harbor is equivalent to Docker Trusted Registry, then Admiral is equivalent to much of the Docker Universal Control Plane. Admiral is one way for developers and operations staff to see what containers are running and to provision new containers. This web interface is also designed for multi-tenant use. It allows quotas and approval workflows to be applied to different tenants. The different tenants could be different groups within the same organization.

Groups of developers work on a project or different operations teams look after those applications in production. Many container-based platforms only provide a command-line interface. This is one of the challenges for initial learning and adoption by operations teams. A graphical user interface like Admiral is important for operations teams to understand the platform. A web interface is also important for a lot of nonproduction uses where visibility into a small number of containers is valuable.

VMware is building out a suite of software for running containers on top of enterprise virtual infrastructure. VMware VIC allows customers to run containers alongside their existing VMs. I expect that Admiral and Harbor would work just as well with Photon Platform as with VIC, provided VMware's licensing permits that use.

Next Steps

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