Last year's VMworld showed the company was serious about making containers work alongside and inside of virtual machines, but with Docker and other container technology continuing to make strides even in the enterprise, VMworld 2015 delivered serious development efforts on VMware's behalf. The result? Photon Platform, a forked version of Linux specifically designed to integrate containers into vSphere, as well as vSphere Integrated Containers.
Since VMware more or less dominates the enterprise virtualization world, containers pose a threat to their establishment. Containers are an alternative to VMs that are (mostly) hardware agnostic, enabling greater portability. However, while they've been viewed with great interest by the enterprise, without an OS or hypervisor management tools, they can lack security and integrations with backup and other software. VMware needs a way to solve these problems while also providing a platform to manage containers alongside virtual machines in vSphere.
In 2014, the company was already touting the performance of running containers inside of virtual machines. Now they've introduced two new tools: Photon and Integrated Containers. They're also working on Project Lightwave, which is designed to authenticate containers and manage their security certificates.
vSphere Integrated Containers run within a current vSphere environment, and they can include the Photon Operating System. It's intended for containers running inside of virtual machines. The ideal user is one who has a large existing vSphere ecosystem and wants to add a few containers to it.
Photon Platform includes the Photon Controller, an open-source control plane, as well as Photon Machine, which is its own “ESX Microvisor”, or a spinoff of the ESXi hypervisor. This is for shops wholeheartedly embracing Docker containers, using them for active development, and in need of large scalable environments complete with management tools. Photon also includes support for the wave of other small-footprint, Linux-based containers springing up lately including those from Pivotal, Google, Mesophere, and others. Photon can be managed from vSphere as well.
To solve the security problem, VMware is also including Project Bonneville, a preview technology that checks the authenticity of containers by isolating and launching each container within a virtual machine using the Instant Clone feature first introduced in vSphere 6.
Automation will be the name of the game as containers will need to scale up to thousands of nodes, replicate across geographically diverse data centers, and integrate with DCIM tools, backup software, and other systems via API. Ultimately, Photon enables containers to take advantage of many of the software-defined features that have been hyped lately, like elastic network management, persistent data volumes, and policy-based management.
Microsoft recently announced its own support of containers within Hyper-V and Windows Server, but has only touted Docker support, not the additional developers above. However, the other features debuted are quite similar, albeit with less market penetration than VMware, and without any open-source options.
Alongside many great features introduced in vSphere 6.0, the addition of a specialized container management suite gives administrators a lot to learn. The rewards, however, should be well worth it, with more efficient use of compute resources, simplified administration, and the portability and lightweight advantages of containers all managed via familiar tools.