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VMware wants to play a major role in the cloud-native application world and understands that many organizations split their applications between on-premises and public cloud locations. In an effort to support these cloud-native applications, VMware uses Pivotal Container Service -- a collaborative effort from Google, Pivotal and VMware -- to add Kubernetes support to vSphere while focusing on the developers who build cloud-native applications.
As a result, IT organizations can expect the relationship between these companies to grow even closer as the industry trend toward DevOps accelerates. It's therefore useful to map how the products work together and where Pivotal Container Service fits into VMware's portfolio.
What is Pivotal Container Service?
Pivotal Container Services (PKS) is a Kubernetes-as-a-service product that simplifies Kubernetes deployment and operations. Kubernetes deploys and manages Docker containers at scale; it schedules, scales, and performs health checks, rolling updates and many other operational functions for applications inside Docker containers. Kubernetes has a reputation for being difficult to deploy; PKS uses a self-service portal to deploy Kubernetes in minutes, then manages it throughout its life with in-place upgrades and automatic scaling.
PKS integrates with the VMware NSX-T software-defined network to provide the administrator with visibility and security between Kubernetes pods. The admin can deploy PKS on premises on top of a vSphere environment or in a public cloud.
PKS also adds a service broker function, which enables an application to securely connect to external cloud services -- specifically those provided by Google, which originally developed Kubernetes and played a major role in developing PKS.
PKS is a certified Kubernetes conformant platform; in addition to brokering external cloud services, PKS has a marketplace for prebuilt container images that provide ready-to-run applications inside Docker containers.
How else does VMware run containers?
Since PKS deploys and manages applications in Docker containers, it will likely always be compared to vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC). VIC enables a vSphere cluster to run Docker containers as VMs and to look like a single Docker host. VSphere manages the availability, networking and performance for these Docker containers.
VIC doesn't provide as many operational functions as Kubernetes, such as rolling updates or health checks. An admin can only deploy VIC with on-premises vSphere; PKS can be deployed on premises or in a public cloud with continuous compatibility between the on-premises and cloud deployments.
Both VIC and PKS include Harbor, an open-source container registry, which enables secure storage of container images on premises or in a public cloud. Harbor has security scanning and user access controls, as well as the ability to link registries to replicate images between PKS deployments.
VMware developed Harbor as part of the now-defunct Photon Platform. To clear up any confusion, VMware no longer develops the Photon Platform for containers, but still actively develops the Linux distribution, Photon Linux; the vCenter Appliance is now based on Photon Linux.
Enterprises aren't at hyperscale
Google, Facebook and Baidu run massive infrastructures and use containers to ease some of the challenges associated with hyperscale computing. Enterprise IT organizations typically don't employ developers as operations teams; instead, they expect to buy software that handles automation and operational efficiency rather than build their own.
In order for enterprises to commit to using containers in production, they need to be able to buy products that automate the routine processes to run container-based applications. This is the market for PKS and the surrounding VMware technologies. Enterprise IT orgs need to look after the container infrastructure and enable the operations teams to manage containers as well as legacy applications with the same tools.
VMware's approach to cloud-native applications
PKS is a central part of VMware's vision for cloud-native applications and, when deployed on premises, it needs to fit into VMware's software-defined data center. To that end, organizations can deploy PKS clusters with vRealize Automation and monitor them with vRealize Operations and Log Insight, both of which also monitor the vSphere layer underneath on-premises PKS.
VMware also acquired Wavefront in early 2017 for additional cloud-native application monitoring. This suite of products helps enterprise customers operate container infrastructures.