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To remain a successful IT vendor in the future, VMware must be able to provide a platform for running and managing all types of applications.
The time it takes to deploy a VM no longer defines IT agility. Agility is far more about how frequently IT can deploy and update applications. Microservices and containers currently provide the path to rapid deployment, and the formation of VMware's cloud-native apps business unit shows that the company is serious about these technologies.
The problem with application updates
VMware initially found success delivering massive hardware cost savings by running three-tier applications in VMs rather than directly on physical servers. Further success came as organizations took advantage of the added portability and deployment speed that VMs provided over physical servers.
A single three-tier application may require multiple computers, database servers, application servers and presentation machines. VMware's vSphere server virtualization product made it cost-effective to run many of these components in VMs and to consolidate them on fewer physical servers. As the VMware vRealize automation tools made it easy to create these VMs, provisioning times moved from months to hours.
Unfortunately, it still takes weeks or months to add features to a three-tier application. The challenge is that each tier is a monolithic executable, and many application changes require all three tiers to change.
Imagine that an organization's products were only ever available in white, but now it plans to offer a range of different color options. IT needs to update the product's application database to have a field for color, the application server needs to allow for color selection and the presentation layer needs a way for customers to choose the color. If IT makes a mistake making any one of these changes, then the whole application can crash.
Because changes are risky, organizations may limit them to annual, quarterly or monthly update schedules, which limits agility.
Inside the VMware cloud-native apps strategy
Cloud-native applications address this problem by breaking their components into small fragments called microservices. Organizations can update each microservice independently without risking that it will take down the entire application.
Following the example above, if the microservice that lists the color choices for a product is unavailable, then the application will continue running, but nobody can change the color of an item they wish to order. Because the risk of failure is lower, organizations are willing to make changes more frequently, which creates more opportunities to innovate and improve the application.
IT often implements microservices as Docker containers, and it increasingly manages Docker using Kubernetes. Two products central to the VMware cloud-native apps strategy -- vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC) and Pivotal Container Service (PKS) -- enable IT to use these technologies on top of vSphere.
VIC enables a vSphere cluster to behave like one huge Docker host, which enables containers to run at scale without additional clustering technologies. PKS is a Kubernetes implementation that works the same across public clouds and on-premises vSphere.
VMware and Pivotal are both subsidiaries of Dell Technologies, so it is easy for the two companies to collaborate on a shared vision. The VMware cloud-native apps strategy includes active development of PKS with Pivotal, which is a strong signal that on-premises vSphere is a high-priority platform for PKS.