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Why commercial software providers are buying into cloud native

There is a reason why IBM has announced it will be spending $34bn to buy Red Hat, much like VMware’s acquisition of Heptio

Commercial software companies are starting to see a shift among their customers to cloud native computing. This emerging area of computing architecture relies heavily on open source technologies and the use of container technology.

In particular, Kubernetes appears to be the platform of choice for open source distributors selling container technology into the enterprise.

A study based on a survey at Gartner’s IT Infrastructure, Operations Management and Data Center Conference, in December 2017, found there is a perfect storm of developments in the application development and operational areas that are influencing the adoption and future direction of container technology.

The survey found that almost a fifth of IT professionals said they had already deployed container technology, while a further 40% expected to deploy containers within a year.

In Gartner’s Market Guide for Container Management Software, the analyst firm predicted software providers will increase their use of containers. For example, IBM recently announced the containerisation of its middleware products onto Red Hat’s OpenShift.

Gartner said such use of containers to host software products like middleware will require enterprises to have underlying infrastructure to support containers. This could lead to businesses looking at container management more closely, according to Gartner.

The rationale driving software companies to deploy their software on containers is well understood. A container offers a lightweight, standard approach to providing a certified environment for developers to run their code. For instance, in the scientific research community, Docker is being used as a way to support the peer review process by providing researchers with a way to distribute all the software components needed to reproduce their experiments.

Containerised middleware

In an article on the IBM developer website posted in 2016 Sharad Chandra, an author at IBM’s developerWorks Recipes site wrote: “It is better to take a container based approach primarily when the application runtime needs middeware (e.g. Java/J2EE) with flexible memory and performance requirements.”

Containers enable variable memory and storage models; public and private IP addresses; scalability and high availability, according to Chandra.

In a cloud native architecture, containers are used to run microservices. So, for IBM, on paper, at least, it probably makes a lot of sense to recognise the simplicity of using a container to house its middleware. Applications can connect to the middleware microservices.

Common platform for VMs and containers

While it is renowned for its virtualisation management platform, during the VMworld conference in Barcelona, VMware announced its intent to acquire Heptio, a leader in the open Kubernetes ecosystem.

The move builds on the company’s support for commitment to Kubernetes, which started a partnership with Pivotal earlier this year to deliver VMware PKS (Pivotal Container Services) and VMware Cloud PKS – in effect providing an enterprise Kubernetes platform.

Paul Fazzone, senior vice-president and general manager, Cloud Native Apps Business Unit, VMware, said: “Heptio products and services will reinforce and extend VMware’s efforts with PKS to establish Kubernetes as the de facto standard for infrastructure across clouds upon closing. We are thrilled that the Heptio team led by Craig and Joe will be joining VMware to help us guide customers as they move to a multi-cloud world.”

Among the areas VMware sees as a growth opportunity is in telco networks, where it currently sells NSX, its network virtualisation product. Heptio could help Communication Service Providers (CSPs) support containerised network functions and applications. For instance, Heptio recently unveiled version 0.8 of its Contour product, which provides a load balancer for connecting external applications to Kubernetes applications.

The acquisition is regarded by industry observers as the way the large commercial software companies are buying their way into the open source community. Heptio follows on from IBM’s purchase of Red Hat and the acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft last year.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation, said: “Following so closely after the IBM/Red Hat news, this is yet another example of a large company that believes open source and open cloud computing are critical to future growth.

“Heptio’s primary business was focused on Kubernetes, which is part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and is increasingly becoming the cornerstone in how enterprises run their businesses.”

Moving multi-loud to the enterprise

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, much of the new developments in cloud native architectures and container technology is open source, and very much at the bleeding edge. Often, risk adverse enterprises are not in a position to deploy the latest technology, but they can rely on their open source distribution provider to support new enterprise-ready features.

Abby Kearns, Cloud Foundry, said: “I believe 2019 will be the year of consolidation in the cloud ecosystem, from startups to publicly traded companies. From Microsoft to IBM, large cloud providers have identified the needs of their enterprise customers.

“Providers have an incentive to expand their portfolios to provide their customers with a multi-cloud solution – and companies that have years of experience in open source, such as Red Hat, provide the keys to unlocking a much broader spectrum of open source communities,” she said.

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Ed Hoppitt, director for applications transformation and cloud native at VMware, said: “Every CIO I speak to wants to avoid the silos. They say their developers want to go in Kubernetes but to go into Kubernetes they will need an IT infrastructure. Why would you do that?

“Containers are just compute, network and storage, but you already have lots of compute, network and storage through virtualisation.” He said VMware is focusing on providing IT with a way to consume the services of a software defined datacentre not as a silo but as a consumable infrastructure I can run containers on.”

Matthew Storey, a systems technical coordinator at Lancaster university, said: “There are some things that work really well in containers, but other things do not. A database is an obvious example of something that doesn’t, which means there are applications that won’t be containerised and will continue to use a traditional model.”

Arguably, this is where companies like VMware and IBM see an opportunity. In VMware’s case, the company is looking to provide a portfolio of tools and a common set of infrastructure services that can be shared, enabling virtual machines and containerised applications to be managed and run using the same IT infrastructure.

As for IBM, William Fellows, founder and research vice-president of IT analyst house 451 Research, recently said IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat puts it right at the front of enterprise Kubernetes, thanks to Red Hat’s OpenShift Kubernetes distribution.

There is clearly a shift in this age of DevOps to recognise that an enterprise architecture has to be hybrid and should support multiple public clouds, private clouds and on-premise workloads.

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