How VMware focuses its VM expertise with Tanzu on flexible containers

VMware is practically synonymous with virtual machines. The software giant has matured along with the technology and now makes optimal use of that expertise to manage containers. The microservices phenomenon is taking many organisations by storm around the globe. However, a powerful management platform is needed to maintain an overview. Tanzu provides the solution.

First of all, perhaps the most important question for many: what is Kubernetes and what are containers? In brief, a container is a lighter version of a virtual machine (VM). A traditional VM requires the emulation of an entire PC, including the complete OS and then finally the app. When you want to test multiple instances of an app, you must develop multiple VMs that the IT team must reserve. This often takes time and developers don’t like to wait.

Moreover, it is quite likely that the app is lightweight and doesn’t need all of the computing power that a traditional VM provides. This results in a lot of computing power being wasted, which is disadvantageous and expensive.

Why do you need containers?

Containers provide a solution in such situations and work smarter than a traditional VM. Instead of emulating an entire PC, a container contains only the dependencies (such as libraries) that a given application needs. You could say that the app is packaged in a ‘box’ that only contains the essentials needed to function properly. A container is much smaller and lighter than a virtual machine because it does not run a full version of an operating system. Moreover, because a container does not virtualise an entire PC, it is much more flexible in its use of the available hardware.

This makes containers a very efficient technology for running apps and workloads in a server environment. If your app is in a container and you need to create multiple instances to meet the demands of your users, you use substantially fewer servers and less server power to achieve the same outcome. Efficiency and scalability are the keywords here.

How do you manage containers?

Scalability is an advantage, but also a poisoned chalice. It’s not difficult managing ten or twenty containers, but what if you need hundreds or even thousands of instances of an application running in a data center with hundreds of servers? To remain cost-effective, all of the different workloads must be distributed as efficiently as possible over the available hardware. No IT administrator wants to do such a job manually on such a large scale.

At this point, an orchestrator is needed to maintain an overview. Kubernetes is such an open source solution and VMware Tanzu is based on it. “The containers remain open source and no one can mess with it,” says Thierry Vandenberghe, technical consultant at Tech Data. “The problem is that the open-source orchestration of containers, such as Kubernetes, often requires an enormous amount of planning to keep them up and running. Tanzu bundles all these different tools and includes enterprise grade support.

Growth in popularity

Thierry has noticed that there is much more demand from companies and organisations for containers and Kubernetes in the last six months to a year. “These are now often larger organisations and partners that are starting out with this and are in a test phase where everything is being investigated. When I look at the end users, I see a lot of schools. They’re implementing it because they have to run it for students.”

The reason why the popularity of Kubernetes and containers is increasing so rapidly is because it satisfies two worlds. Thanks to microservices, developers within an enterprise can always access an environment to run applications quickly and at any time. They no longer need to frustrate the IT team with lots of requests for VMs so they can continue working.

We would like to reassure IT teams who believe that Kubernetes adds extra complexity to their IT environment. With a tool like VMware Tanzu, the dashboard looks like it is all the VMs running on top of vSphere. “It fits seamlessly into the ecosystem,” says Thierry. “Everyone is immediately familiar with it.”

Three levels of Tanzu

VMware Tanzu comes in three levels: Basic, Standard, and Advanced. The basic version allows you to run Kubernetes within vSphere. The standard version gives you the added flexibility of managing it across different cloud environments. The Advanced version goes one step further and embraces DevSecOps with modular full-stack capabilities. This allows you to automatically stream a series of compliant containers and secure the software supply chain end-to-end.

In theory, three levels seem just right for making VMware Tanzu acceptable for SMBs and enterprises. However, Thierry stresses that Tanzu currently requires at least vSphere Enterprise Plus. In practice, this makes it too ambitious for most SMBs. He does expect a lot to change because it can provide structure between the developers within the organisation and the IT team.

At the same time, he warns against too much opportunism. “Running containers within an organisation because it’s a hype isn’t the right thing to do. A container is volatile and small. As soon as you work with continuously active containers that get bigger and bigger, it goes against the purpose of the tool. In that case it’s better to switch back to a traditional VM.”

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