VMware Container Projects

“We have recognized that our blockbuster compute products are reaching maturity and will represent a decreasing portion of our business going forward, even as they continue to be a powerful springboard for building our new businesses” (26/01/2016 VMware Inc Earnings Report: Q4 2015).

That was VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger earlier this year signalling that perhaps server virtualisation has peaked, as organisations look towards more light-weight, multi-platform, and cheaper ways of running applications. It is also why VMware have pushed products such as NSX, vSAN, and vRealize so much this year, and why their container-based projects have gained so much traction.

In this post we’ll look at vSphere Integrated Containers, for deploying containers within an existing vSphere virtualised environment, and Project Photon, the enterprise Cloud Infrastructure Platform.

See also Windows 2016 Containers.

vSphere Integrated Containers

This is a technology that has been available for some time in tech preview, but at VMworld 2016 Europe it was announced that vSphere Integrated Containers would now be covered by production support. It is billed as a new feature for vSphere 6.5 but is also compatible with vSphere 6.0, and available to Enterprise Plus customers at no additional cost.

Containers are portable operating environments containing an application and all its dependencies, allowing for exact copies of workflows, standardisation, portability across different environments, improved efficiency in use of existing infrastructure, and simplified administration. Containers share similarities with virtual machines in that they can share the same physical infrastructure, furthermore containers can share the same operating system and kernel whilst remaining completely isolated from one another.

Software developers use containers to build, ship, and run applications. By integrating containers with vSphere administrators can isolate, secure, and manage containers from a familiar interface, while developers can make use of the speed, agility, and portability benefits. By delivering vSphere Integrated Containers VMware allows customers to deploy containers alongside virtual machine workloads by leveraging their existing SDDC without the need to redesign the infrastructure.

The main components that form the new container environment are all open-sourced and available from GitHub:

  • The Container Engine which exposes a Docker compatible API for developers to run container images as VMs. These container images are managed side-by-side with virtual machines using existing vSphere management tool, and are fully compatible with NSX, vSAN, and vRealize Operations.
  • The Container Registry (Harbor), a private container registry for enterprise organisations to securely store and replicate audit container images, with user management, access control, and audit logging built in.
  • The Container Management Portal (Admiral), a secure self-service portal for developers and application teams to provision, monitor, and manage containers.

When a new container is deployed a lightweight VM is created within a logical Virtual Container Host (VCH). Multiple Virtual Container Hosts can be provisioned to separate groups of containers, and multiple containers can be created within each VCH. The VCH is a representative collection of tools and hardware resources that enable container compatibility.


VMware Photon Platform

At the time of writing the Photon Platform is still in technical preview. Photon is as an enterprise level Cloud Infrastructure Platform intended for large scale container deployments with specific workloads such as micro-services. Photon is made up of 3 key elements: Photon Controller and Photon OS, which are open-sourced, and propriety Photon Machines.

Photon Controller enables ESXi, a best-in-class hypervisor, host resources to be pooled together for deployments of virtual machines optimised to run containers. It does so without the use of or need for vCenter Server, and places no scalability limits on the number of hosts that can provide resources for container workloads. Photon Controller facilitates multi-tenancy and allows resources to be allocated on a per-tenant basis and on a per-project basis for each tenant, it is the management software that links the Photon Machines and their Photon OS to various container orchestration frameworks.

Photon OS is a lightweight version of Linux with enhanced security and the minimal components needed to run containers. Photon OS is optimised to run on VMware platforms and supports a wide range of container runtimes, such as Docker, and container scheduling frameworks, such as Kubernetes. The Photon OS requires a virtualisation layer and is downloadable as an ISO, OVA, AMI for Amazon Web Services, or GCE for Google Compute Engine. The Photon Machine is a stripped down version of market leading hypervisor ESXi, with the Photon OS built in, and is still under development by VMware.


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