Dan's Take

The Meaning Behind the VMware Projects Photon and Lightwave

The company finally gets its own OS.

Yesterday, Keith Ward reported on the new VMware open source container projects, called Photon and Lightwave. I thought it would be useful to examine these projects more closely to see what's behind these two efforts.

Dan's Take: All Your Base Are Belong To Us
It is not at all clear if VMware's motivation for creating these projects is to make life simpler for enterprises developing and deploying applications in today's increasingly virtual world, or to grab control of OS and other low-level functions from other suppliers. Let's consider the different aspects of this announcement.

Waving the Open Source Banner
I'm reminded of an article I wrote last November on the true value of open source. Just because a supplier puts a project out as open source, it doesn't always mean that the technology is totally free of encumbrances and is ready for all to use, modify and deploy as they see fit.

VMware's rolling these projects out under the GPLv2 license. Before getting too excited by the obvious potential of these two projects, it's really important to understand how this technology is going to be controlled; that is, who controls modifications and future deployment of this code?

Could this be just another competitive move by VMware to take control of the OS and important system components away from the current suppliers of that technology? VMware has long contended with Microsoft, Red Hat, SUSE and other OS suppliers to be the primary vendor supporting virtualized environments.

Echoes of Active Directory
This reminds me of how Microsoft introduced Active Directory as a requirement for Windows-centric applications into a world in which all those functions were already being managed by Unix-based identity management and naming tools.

With Windows Server 2000, Microsoft added Active Directory to Windows, then adjusted many system services and supported Microsoft products to use it. Because organizations now had to use AD alongside  the Unix-based identity management tools they were previously using, many organizations faced political and technical struggles over who would manage those system services, who would control them and how to synchronize identities and access control information across the boundary between the UNIX and Windows systems.

This pitted then-dominant UNIX-based enterprise IT organizations against the upcoming Windows-centric business unit IT organizations. Only later, after the political battle was in full force, did Microsoft offer cross-platform tools allowing interoperability.

If we consider Project Lightwave in this light, we'll see that every major Linux distribution includes many, if not all, of Project Lightwave's proposed features. It's not at all clear how -- or even if -- VMware will interact with the technology being offered by Red Hat, SUSE or any other supplier.

Most of these suppliers already have projects underway to interoperate with container technology, as well as other forms of virtualization technology (for more information on the seven layers of virtualization technology, please see, "The 7-layer Virtualization Model".)

Does this mean that VMware wants to wrest control of these important functions away from the current Linux distributions so that it can control more of the software stack at the heart of today's modern applications?

Who Controls the Operating System?
VMware has long competed with Microsoft and the Linux community to position itself as the source for the complete stack of software to support applications in a virtual world. To that end, it's acquired or built technology to address all seven virtualization layers.

Until the announcement of this project, however, it relied upon Microsoft and the Linux community to provide the OS to support applications, application frameworks, database engines and all the other software that created a full application environment. With the launch of Project Photon, VMware has thrown down the gauntlet and indicated its intention to compete with its former OS partners for this piece of the business.

Buckle Up
While this is just the first salvo in what is likely to be a long competition, VMware appears to be taking on the established suppliers of OS and identity management software. It isn't at all clear how current applications, application frameworks, database engines and the like will be supported in the proposed eVMWare environment. Will, for example, Oracle certify and support its applications, development and deployment tools, and database products in VMware's environment? What about IBM and its applications and tools?

Sit back, everyone. This is going to be interesting.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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