Dan's Take

VMware AppCatalyst and Project Bonneville: 'Datacenter On the Desktop'

Two new products may speed up development time, but do they lead to lock-in?

In an interview with Virtualization Review, VMware's Jared Rosoff introduced two "cloud application development" projects that VMware was going to make public at DockerCon 2015 today. The goal, according to Rosoff, was making developers a "first class user of the datacenter." These technology previews are built on top of the previously announced projects Photon and Lightwave, which have already been reviewed.

What VMware appears to mean by this is that it plans to offer a set of workstation products that create a datacenter-like environment that offers developers a workstation development and testing environment that mirrors VMware's edition of a datacenter environment.

Let's examine each of the "application previews" VMware displayed at DockerCon 2015:

VMware describes AppCatalyst as follows:

A technology preview, VMware AppCatalyst offers a fast and easy way for developers to replicate a private cloud locally on their desktop for building and testing containerized and microservices-based applications. The tool features Project Photon, an open source minimal Linux container host, Docker Machine and integration with Vagrant. VMware AppCatalyst is available today for Mac OS X as a free download from the AppCatalyst technology preview community site.

Rosoff said that with AppCatalyst, VMware "Wants to deliver a datacenter on the desktop." The idea, he continued, was to turn the desktop "…into a dev/test environment they can have locally." Speeding up that cycle will allow developers "To iterate more swiftly on their software."

AppCataylst, Rosoff said, was based on VMware's Fusion hypervisor.

Project Bonneville

Project Bonneville, a technology preview, will enable the seamless integration of Docker containers into the VMware vSphere platform and allow virtual administrators to use their existing operational and management processes and tools such as VMware vCenter Server without the need for new tools or additional training. Optimized for Docker, Project Bonneville downloads containers from Docker Hub, and isolates and starts up each container in a virtual machine with minimal overhead using VMware vSphere’s Instant Clone feature.

VMware sums up its announcements this way:

Together, Project Bonneville and Instant Clone will make virtual machines lightweight enough to support one container per virtual machine. Overall, the technology will offer containers security and isolation while providing admins with transparency into what containers are running where in their virtual environment. The technology is also architected to support Docker containers on any x86-based operating system, including Windows.

This announcement, taken along with the launches of Photon and Lightwave, clearly shows that VMware is taking a page out of an early Microsoft playbook. In that playbook, Microsoft offered proprietary development tools, runtime environments, file formats and communications protocols that, on the surface, appeared to be designed to make life easier for developers and administrators. After all, developers love an environment that takes care of important details and makes moving from coding to testing to production simple.

What wasn't clear from the surface view was that this approach also caused developers to be comfortable with a development environment that removed choice. Once they were hooked by the ease of use and product integration, all their development efforts became Windows centric. It became a chore to move applications to any other runtime environment. This, combined with other tactics in the Microsoft playbook, caused other runtime environments such as UNIX and mainframes to experience a decline.

Dan's Take: Faster Development -- At a Cost
VMware appears to be trying to do something similar by linking popular development tools and operating system virtualization and partitioning tools, such as Docker's containers, to its virtual machine (VM) software, storage virtualization technology and the complete VMware environment. While this would make life easier for developers, it would also tend to tie the resulting applications into the VMware world.

It's also reminiscent of efforts to graft Java VMs into the VMware environment so that operating systems like Windows or Linux wouldn't be needed to execute Java workloads.

In the end, developers and the companies they represent are looking for openness, interoperability and the ability to easily host applications where they make the best sense.  It's not at all clear that these technology presentations demonstrate an effort by VMware to provide such an environment; instead, it appears that VMware is embracing every trend and extending it to tie tightly into its environment.

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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