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As a leader in the virtualization space, VMware has evolved its product line to include container support. The ultimate goal of VMware's strategy is to enable organizations to use both VMs and containers in their software-defined data centers.
Containers offer a higher level layer of abstraction than a VM. Containers package application binaries and dependencies in a consistent fashion, so programs written and compiled for one environment, such as VMware vSphere, run with little to no modification in another environment, such as Microsoft Hyper-V. As a result, application portability might increase.
Companies desire such flexibility, so the use of the technology is growing. According to a study by 451 Research, adoption of application containers will grow 40% annually through 2020.
Bare metal and containers: A harmonious couple
Initially, the typical use cases for containers focused on deploying such applications on bare-metal systems -- those without OS and virtualization software. In these cases, companies realized a few potential benefits. They didn't have to pay OS or VM licensing prices, which can be expensive. Performance also improved because the overhead from that software disappeared.
But not every workload meshes with bare metal. Many businesses rely heavily on VM applications to function. Connections from the older systems to new environments are in a nascent stage of development.
Consequently, businesses must often write connectivity software to link container applications with information stored in VM applications. With vendors releasing updates more frequently and applications becoming more complex, such maintenance work can be cumbersome.
Another option for corporations is moving VM applications to containers.
"It may not make sense for companies to try and migrate older legacy applications to containers," said Larry Carvalho, research director for IDC's platform-as-a-service practices. "Containers perform well when applications are broken up into small components that can be mixed and matched. The older applications often are large and monolithic."
In addition, applications such as e-commerce products are critical to the business, so IT teams need to minimize downtime. The redundancy features found with containers are in an early stage of development and lack the functionality found in legacy systems.
I'll take both containers and VMs
Organizations do have the option of running containers inside a VM, an approach that has some benefits. This technique provides application isolation. If a problem arises with one container, other applications won't be affected, which is something that happens on occasion with containers.
But this design also creates challenges. To manage containers, organizations must invest in container orchestration tools, such as Docker Enterprise, Mesosphere or Kubernetes. Because these products are new, they provide a limited view of system performance in some cases. For instance, containers offer the ability to more densely populate servers, but performance monitoring features are in a nascent stage of development.
Also, many organizations have significant investments in VM infrastructure management tools, such as vSphere. They want to keep using these tools so they don't have to train their staff to run a new platform. Vendors are starting to deliver products that extend the reach of legacy management tools to containers.
VMware's strategy pivots in a new direction
Part of VMware's strategy has been to rely on Pivotal, a former EMC subsidiary and now an independent company, to add container software to its product line. The two jointly developed the Pivotal Container Service (PKS), a platform that enables organizations to initiate, deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters on any cloud platform. Their long-term goal is to integrate PKS with vSphere, enabling businesses to use VMware's unified software-defined data center infrastructure for containers and VMs.
PKS extends Kubernetes to legacy management systems via VMware NSX and a jointly developed Open Services Broker API that allows the integration of Google Cloud Platform services with PKS applications. PKS features cross-cloud security and network connectivity, including container network interface-compatible services powered by NSX.
Many VMware customers want to automate the deployment of all data center workloads. VRealize Automation has been extended to automate VM, Docker container and Kubernetes cluster deployments.
Containers are rapidly gaining traction in the data center. Initially, customers faced an either/or choice when examining VMs and containers. VMware's strategy is to gradually extend its product lines so businesses can deploy, manage and support both instance types in a consistent fashion.