When it comes to containers VMware is pursuing a two-pronged strategy. One is via the existing VMware hypervisor on which containers can be deployed. The other involves a PhotonOS project based on what is generally known as a microhypervisor that is specifically designed to provide a lightweight alternative to hosting containers. To advance that particular goal VMware has released version 0.8 of an open source Photon Controller project through which IT organizations can both manage PhotonOS and provision multiple types of container orchestration frameworks.
PhotonOS itself is a Linux container host that has been optimized to boot quickly in VMware VSphere environments. It is compatible with Docker, rkt and Pivotal Garden container specifications.
James Zabala, senior product manager for Cloud Native for the Open Source Community, for VMware, says Photon Controller is specifically designed to be container orchestration framework agnostic because over time most IT organizations will probably wind up working with multiple types. In addition, different levels of the IT organization may prefer different frameworks. For example, Kubernetes and Mesosphere tend to require a lot of engineering expertise, while Swam from Docker appeals more to the average IT administrator.
VMware claims to have tested Photon Controller using a 200-node Kubernetes cluster (on-par with Google Container Engine’s limits) and a 700-node Mesos cluster. Thus far, Zabala additional testing is currently limited by the size of the cluster VMware can find to run Photon Controller on.
Regardless of the orchestration framework chosen, Zabala says IT organizations will also need a mechanism to control the microhypervisor a container might be deployed on. Photon Controller will also automatically replicate images to the appropriate local datastore.
By the time version 1.0 is ready VMware is also promising further enhancements to microhypervisor fleet management and authentication, as well deeper integration with VMware NSX and VSAN technologies.
In the meantime the debate over where best to deploy containers continues. Most containers today are deployed on top of virtual machines as the path of least resistance. Most of the management frameworks for container are a little immature and IT operations teams are hesitant to give up their existing systems management tools. Over time, however, containers and the management frameworks used to manage them will get more robust. After all, running containers on a microhypervisor or bare metal server represents significant savings when it comes to IT infrastructure utilization that most organizations will not be able to afford to ignore. In the case of microhypervisor IT organizations will theoretically be able to better address security concerns by isolating containers in a way that does not allow any given set of containers to take over all the resources of a physical machine.
The only irony, of course, may be that once all the work being done by various organizations to make container environments more robust they may start to look a lot more like VMware’s Project Photon initiative. If that turns out to be the case, VMware may still very well have the inside track when it comes the future of containers in the enterprise.