VMware Goes All-In On Containers - InformationWeek

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9/1/2015
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VMware Goes All-In On Containers

New VMware products elevate containers from an afterthought to a primary vehicle for application delivery.

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VMware has altered its stance on containers and now treats them as first class citizens, alongside its own virtual machines, in the virtualized data center. It's also adding new power to one of the favorite tools of administrators moving virtual machines around: vMotion.

Popular live migration function vMotion will now work between an enterprise data center and VMware vCloud Air data centers. That might seem ho-hum to observers used to hearing about vMotion inside the data center. But experienced virtual machine administrators know just how tricky it can be to move VMs between on-premises and cloud data centers.

It is a rare occurrence in today's enterprise data center to attempt the feat.

Migration between data centers can be done, but it's almost a case of special engineering. The networks involved must be pre-aligned and matched up, and timing is everything. Non-essential parts of the running virtual machine are moved ahead of time along with the data being used, then activity is suspended for a few milliseconds, and the final parts moved over the wire.

VMware is one of the biggest contributors to the Network Time Protocol (which syncs time between computer systems on the Internet and private networks) for good reason: The coordination of time between the resumed virtual machine at a remote location must be a close match to that of the source, or else its data stream will fall out of step.

[Want to learn more about hyperconvergence? See Hyperconvergence: Redefining The Data Center.]

The announcement of the availability of vMotion across geographically separate data centers gave VMworld, which got underway in San Francisco Monday, Aug. 31, one of its loudest and most spontaneous moments of applause. "Can you believe that vMotion?" called out Bill Fathers, VMware executive VP and general manager of cloud services, as he returned to the stage after the cross data center demo.

At a pre-keynote briefing, several VMware executives prepared media and analysts for a change of thinking on containers. In the past, VMware has been wary of them, citing security concerns and concluding containers were good -- provided they're run inside a virtual machine.

This year there was a striking change of heart. Developers love Docker, Rocket, and Cloud Foundry's Garden, and so does VMware, declared Kit Colbert, CTO for cloud-native applications. "We see our role as being very complementary to all those providers," he said during the briefing.

(Image: masterzphotois/iStockphoto)

(Image: masterzphotois/iStockphoto)

VMware's vSphere virtual machine provisioning and management system is now also a container provisioning and management system. Since DockerCon in late June, VMware has been working on Virtual Container Host, a container endpoint that can be configured and reconfigured to host multiple containers. They run in a virtual machine, but Virtual Container Host may be running dozens or hundreds in one virtual machine. A large assembly of Docker containers "could be an entire vSphere cluster one moment and a fraction of the same cluster the next," depending on the containers' needs, explained Colbert in a blog post Aug. 31.

VMware has compressed the amount of time it takes to launch a Virtual Container Host and now claims it can get a container up and running in a virtual machine in two seconds. Part of the reason is that it's using its Photon version of Linux -- a slenderized copy requiring only 25 MB of RAM -- to equip a host to run the container. Another part of the reason is that it's found ways to throw away parts of the hypervisor that aren't needed in the container's operation to speed the hypervisor's launch.

The result is Linux containers that fit into the virtualized part of the data center with strong isolation characteristics, but also a high speed of activation and initial response. Two seconds is still slower than a

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
9/1/2015 | 8:11:54 PM
VMworld started out with 1,200 attendees in 2008
VMworld keeps getting bigger every year and more closely resembling its predecessor shows in San Francisco, events like Dreamforce, JavaOne and Oracle OpenWorld. 23,000 are attending this year.
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