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VMworld 2017: How vSphere operators will become container managers

VMware is fleshing out its strategy to become the Swiss Army knife for hybrid computing. We investigate how vSphere will evolve

VMware wants to replicate the success of its on-premise vSphere Hypervisor in the cloud using its NSX network virtualisation product. But it needs to convince administrators to start moving away from their stable vSphere environments.

At the recent VMworld Europe conference in Barcelona, VMware unveiled HCX, a tool to help bridge the worlds of on-premise vSphere virtual machine (VM) instances with private clouds and Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud deployments.

Speaking at the company’s annual European conference in Barcelona, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said HCX would help customers migrate older versions of vSphere and provide a loosely coupled architecture to connect older on-premise systems to new on-premise and cloud environments.

The long-term plan is to make it possible for businesses to run their virtual machines either locally, on-premise or in the cloud seamlessly. The company also plans to extend its support for AWS. “We will find ways to integrate Amazon services in the future,” said Gelsinger.

The underlying technology architecture to enable all of this to happen is NSX, the company’s network virtualisation technology.

VMware said NSX offers a bridge between the on-premise world and cloud computing. But as VMware shifts to the hybrid cloud, the company needs to take existing vSphere operators to the cloud with it.

Legacy vSphere

VMware’s vSphere Hypervisor is now mainstream. But as the company starts embracing the era of hybrid cloud, vSphere risks being left behind as VMware looks for new growth opportunities.

When asked about the future of the hypervisor, Michael Adams, vSphere senior product manager at VMware, said: “vSphere continues to be an important part of what we do.”

In an interview with Computer Weekly at VMworld in Barcelona, he said the focus of the company had shifted to be more about “solutions”.

“We have to keep our eyes on the ball in terms of new innovations and capabilities. As VMware invests in new capabilities, we are still investing in vSphere”
Michael Adams, VMware

“A lot of people consume bits and bytes. They will have vSphere. We are also seeing keen interest around hyper-converged infrastructure,” said Adams.

The vSphere Hypervisor is VMware’s most successful product, with in excess of 500,000 customers. Some of VMware’s other products, such as its NSX network virtualisation technology, have a small installed based but are growing rapidly, according to Adams. “We are trying to get to those numbers with NSX and vSAN and our other products,” said Adams.

NSX gives businesses the ability to replicate virtual machines using VMware’s vMotion technology over long distances, he said. “We truly believe we can do exactly what we did for the compute segment in the network segment and the storage segment.”

In fact, the company believes telcos represent an untapped market for virtualisation, where network applications have traditionally been run on dedicated network appliances. It is here that VMware believes NFX will see a high growth rate.

When asked about vSphere’s long-term strategy, Adams said: “We have to make sure we keep our eyes on the ball in terms of new innovations and sets of capabilities. We have the largest number of engineers working on the core vSphere technology. As VMware invests in new capabilities, we are still investing in vSphere.

“As we move to the cloud we can make our engineering cloud-first and will release new features every quarter, unlike the longer development cycles of on-premise software. This keep us fresh with new ideas and helps us focus on what customers really need.”

Adams cited multiple ways to buy vSphere. For example, it is possible to buy vSphere AWS in the cloud, through a subscription. For customers running vSphere on-premise, he said one of the key requirements was the ability to run more efficiently. When people start running 30 or more virtual machines, Adams said businesses should start using VMware vSphere Operations Management, which combines core virtualisation with health, capacity and performance data.

Read more about VMware NSX

  • VMware will add a dollop of NSX networking “secret sauce” to many of its core products as a central piece of its strategies around virtualisation, cloud computing and IoT.
  • Even though Kubernetes is the container orchestration gold standard, it needs a little help integrating microservices-based apps into enterprise networks. That’s where NSX comes in.

For customers running a mature VMware setup on-premise, Adams said the next step was to start using NSX and vSAN to achieve greater value from the core vSphere investment, adding that customers would then be likely to want to do more with the cloud.

Here, he said, VMware can now deliver the same operating environment on-premise and in the cloud, through AWS.

Support for containers

VMware is now offering a route to containerisation thanks to a tie-up with Google and Pivotal, announced at VMworld in Las Vegas earlier in September. “vSphere operators need to work out how they interact with other groups in IT and across their business,” said Adams.

For instance, teams of developers may already be working on using IT architectures based on using containers to microsegment their code, while other teams may need to run legacy code. ”The vSphere operators are being asked to run computing resources in a variety of different ways. VMware is a bit like a Swiss Army knife, where you, as the operator, can pick the tool you need to do the job.”

He said VMware offered an integrated container capability, which enabled operators to manage containers in the same way as standard virtual machines. This is available now to help administrators to get started with container management.

But as organisations start to scale up their use of containers, it will be possible to use Pivotal Kubernetes Services for container management in a vSphere environment.

“While most people use VMs today, we want people to be able to use containers in the same way,” said Adams. “You want the developers to see what they normally see, such as a Docker interface, and you also need the vSphere operators to see what they normally see – VMs. That’s why we put the container in a virtual machine to create a virtual container host, which looks the same to all parties and helps to get them started with containers.”

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