VMware Dives Into the Deep End of Containers

VMworld 2016 showed how much the company has done to develop the technologies.

The growth in the importance of containers to the IT and developer community has been mirrored inside VMware. For instance, both the vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC) and Photon Controller platforms were prominent during the VMworld 2016 keynotes, the place where the company highlights its primary new technologies and directions, and drives awareness of other products to the public.

In fact, VMware now has a new organization to support and evangelize containers: the Cloud Native Apps Business Unit (CNABU). Although Photon Controller and VIC both deal with containers, they serve different purposes and provide different services.

Fully-Loaded Photons
Photon Controller allows the pooling of an ESXi host to deploy VMs that will run containers. Photon Controller is a very interesting beast; it demolishes many of the constraints VMware has historically imposed on its products. Photon Controller uses ESXi, but does not require the use of vCenter, VMware's vSphere management server. In other words, Photon doesn't require vCenter and its limitations, such as a 64 ESXi cluster.

That increases scalability in a massive way: VMware has reported instances of hundreds and even thousands of ESXi servers in a Photon Controller cluster. Photon Controller can work with different frameworks such as Kubernetes, Mesos and Docker Swarm. Although it's a full-featured product, a Photon Controller cluster can be set up quickly and easily.

Photon Controller has borrowed some of the terminology and concepts of vCloud Director, including tenants, tickets and projects. With these constructs, Photon Controller can handle multi-tenancy by allowing resources to be allocated on a per-tenant and per-project basis. VMware extended this with some new concepts, such as "flavors." Flavors deal with the resource allocation and sizing of the containers.

vSphere Integrated Containers
VIC is also used with containers, but is much more VMware-specific. VIC allows containers to run as VMs using the vSphere infrastructure, making for an easy learning curve for virtualization admins. But VIC introduces some new constructs, too, the most important being Virtual Container Hosts (VCH).

A VCH is analogous to a Docker endpoint, but VIC manages many VCHs, whereas products such as Docker are designed to be used by a single tenant. VIC was designed from the ground up with multi-tenancy in mind. Each VCH has its own pool of resources, and a VCH can be assigned to a specific user as needed. 

One of the major concerns and headaches when deploying containers is the care and feeding of the host OS on which they reside. VIC assists with this, as VHCs can be managed, monitored and maintained from a central management platform. For example, each container is assigned a vNIC that can be set up with its own security policies. Containers can be managed through vCenter, and many of the tools commonly used by vSphere administrators can be used with containers with the inclusion of VIC.

Go Exploring
Both Photon Controller and VIC are technologies you should be exploring now, if you haven't already started. Use Photon Controller to pool your ESXi hosts if you only need to  run containers. On the other hand, if you need to run containers within your vSphere environment, be sure to take a look at VIC.

VMware has always had an eye toward the future, looking for ways to abstract and manage datacenter components. Photon Controller and VIC are clear signs that the company has begun to -- and will continue to -- embrace and extend containers.

About the Author

Tom Fenton has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 30 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 20 years focusing on virtualization and storage. He currently works as a Technical Marketing Manager for ControlUp. He previously worked at VMware in Staff and Senior level positions. He has also worked as a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, where he headed the Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on X @vDoppler.


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