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Containers make it easier for companies to build and deploy application software. Managing them pose many challenges because the underlying infrastructure differs vastly from legacy systems, however. As large businesses build more applications that rely on containers and cloud storage, they often face issues integrating them with legacy management tools. To address this growing problem, VMware extended vSphere to integrate with Kubernetes in an attempt to gain traction in the emerging container-VM management space, and recently upgraded its vSphere suite to monitor containers and the cloud more easily.
Containers are efficient but difficult to manage. In some cases, admins can spin up and take down a container in seconds. Traditional management tools were not built to track such rapid changes and can struggle with managing containers as a result.
Emerging applications -- such as apps that deal with big data, data analytics, AI and machine learning -- often use containers. These applications typically run in the cloud and require large volumes of storage. As a result, the volume of worldwide data will increase from 33 zettabytes (1 trillion gigabytes) in 2018 to 175 zettabytes in 2025, according to IDC.
Modern container management platforms such as Kubernetes traditionally manage containers, but such platforms have different design foundations from legacy management tools such as vSphere. This creates additional problems when it comes to integration.
Because of the differences between the two management systems, many companies deploy and manage their containers inefficiently. In some cases, they run containers separately from VMs, resulting in duplication, increased overhead and unnecessary costs, according to Scott Sinclair, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, a computer consultant company based out of Milford, Mass.
In other cases, organizations run containers inside VMs.
"Corporations run containers in VMs because they know to deploy and manage VMs," said Marco Alcala, CEO of Alcala Consulting, an IT consulting firm based out of Pasadena, Calif.
Neither approach leads to optimal integration and efficiency.
Delivering Cloud Native Storage
VMware has enhanced vSphere hoping to alleviate such problems. Recently, the vendor upgraded vSphere to support Cloud Native Storage (CNS), which VMware bundled into vSphere 6.7 at no extra cost. Organizations using vSphere can now run, monitor and manage containers and VMs on one platform using a single pane of glass and avoid the inefficiencies.
CNS links container management tools, such as Kubernetes, Mesos, Docker or Swarm to legacy systems. VMware also incorporated Kubernetes support directly into vSphere. Now admins can provision and troubleshoot container storage in an automated, scalable manner.
VSphere Kubernetes integration includes two components: a Container Storage Interface (CSI) plugin for Kubernetes and a CNS Control Plane within vCenter. The CNS Control Plane tells Kubernetes how to carry out tasks such as storage provisioning and management with vSphere. Additionally, CNS provides a vSphere administrator with visibility into container usage on the physical infrastructure.
Additional features of CNS include the ability to map container volumes to backup disks and the ability to use capacity management tools.
VMware's move toward container management
In 2017, VMware announced vSphere Storage for Kubernetes, but this provided limited visibility into and troubleshooting for containers and required a great deal of manual intervention from admins.
Scott SinclairSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group
As part of the new upgrade, the CNS Control Plane now includes First Class Disks (FCDs), which make VM disk and volume lifecycles completely independent of VMs. An FCD is a fully managed vSphere VM. CNS supports volume provisioning, so containers comply with SAN policies, and CNS also integrates with other storage formats, such as VMFS and NFS.
Admins now possess visibility not only into capacity usage and allocation, but also volume usage, mapping to pods and mapping to applications, because the Kubernetes system infrastructure becomes aware of the workloads it runs.
Making a strong case
"Any organization that is doing software development is using containers," Alcala said.
VMware has a strong position when it comes to integrating container and VM management.
"Most enterprises plan to deploy containers along with their VMs," Sinclair said. "VMware has a leading position in VM management, so businesses will be interested in using their solution for containers as well."
But VMware's system does have limitations. Currently, it does not offer native support for Docker or Swarm, two popular alternatives to Kubernetes.
VMware could add such functionality. As part of its upgrade, VMware rewrote its storage integration interface to make it compatible with the emerging CSI spec, which provides a common interface among multiple container management systems.