SAN FRANCISCO — The word of the day for day one of VMware’s annual VMworld conference here is “Kubernetes.” The open-source container orchestration software figures heavily into the virtualization giant’s strategy going forward, so much so that it will be a fundamental part of an upcoming edition of its flagship vSphere virtualization software, the company said.
Speaking to press and analysts after his Monday morning keynote kicking off the event, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger called Kubernetes “as important now as VMs were 20 years ago” or Java before that, in terms of providing an abstraction layer for enterprise applications.
The company announced what it calls VMware Tanzu at the show, which is in essence how Kubernetes will become part of — or an underpinning of — many aspects of the company’s strategy for running, building, and managing applications.
In the category of running applications, the company announced what it calls Project Pacific, a commitment that it will bring Kubernetes to vSphere in the future, although it disclosed no specific timeline. Gelsinger called it the most substantial re-architecture of the company’s flagship offering in over a decade, which is a strong statement, given that during that time, ESX has reinvented itself for a cloud-centric world.
The effort will be two-fold, he said, both making sure that Kubernetes pods work “faster than on bare metal” on top of vSphere, and also re-working vSphere to take advantage of Kubernetes itself. Gelsinger said it’s not a matter of virtualization versus containers, but a matter of the two being better together. While Kubernetes is mostly a framework for offering cloud-native apps, the CEO said there’s much runway for the two to work side-by-side to bridge the gap between the demands of developers and the needs of IT.
“Even the most aggressive migration strategy [for enterprise applications moving to Kubernetes] is going to take decades,” Gelsinger said, making the ability to more efficiently run and manage both VM-based and container-based apps “super-powerful.”
In the second category, building applications, the company announced last week that it would acquire Pivotal, part of a $5-billion (U.S.) shopping spree that saw VMware purchase its first two publicly-traded companies (Pivotal and Carbon Black) on the same day.
Pivotal, you may recall, was an application-development spinoff of VMware about six years ago, and a close partner of VMware as part of the Dell Technologies family in the meantime. Gelsinger said it was important for VMware to let the company go in the first place because it needed independence to scale. At the time, he argued, VMware couldn’t have provided the resources required to grow Pivotal in the way it did as an independent organization, scaling to some 3,000 people since its departure from VMware.
“Six years ago, we were just a little busy with things like NSX and vSAN,” Gelsinger said, joking that the most he could have spared them in terms of resources at the time were “maybe six heads, two dogs and a cat.”
Fast forward to today, he said, and bringing them back in-house makes sense because of the move towards DevOps bringing developer needs and IT needs more closely in tune, because Pivotal has the scale to fit in with VMware’s requirements, and because of their close alignment with VMware both in terms of technology and strategy.
“We’re bringing them in not to shift their strategy, but to accelerate the strategy they’ve already laid out,” Gelsinger said. “In our experience, that’s a good way to make acquisitions because you’re building on the energies and culture they’re already building.”
Rounding out the applications offering with management, the company introduced Tanzu Mission Control, which it calls “one product to manage Kubernetes clusters” both from developers and IT operations requirements.
“These three, taken together, are a comprehensive environment for customers to bridge the development world and the operations world,” Gelsinger said. “It positions us very uniquely for bringing those worlds together.”
On the channel front, Gelsinger said he was “pleased but not satisfied” with the momentum the company has made in terms of transforming its partner programs over the last year, and that VMware had “a very good year with the channel.” However, in that spirit of not being satisfied with where the company is at, he said that it would continue to tweak and evolve partner programs, particularly as new areas like Kubernetes become more critical within the VMware stack.
“We want [partners] to see our technology leadership, but also our ability to provide programs they can build on for their future,” he said. “We’ve got so much going on here, and we’re bringing in so much new stuff, that the only we can realize all of this opportunity with our customers at scale is through our channel partners. We need to become one of the best, if not the best, channel programs out there.”