Dan's Take

The Impact of VMware Photon on the Market

Keith Ward recently published an interesting article pointing out that VMware has released Photon, VMware's own Linux distribution. Keith laid out the details of the announcement,  so I won't bore you with an examination of the release details. I'm going to consider what this announcement means to the industry.

In April 2015, VMware announced two undertakings: Project Lightwave and Project Photon. Project Lightwave focused on delivering identity management, management of multi-tenant computing environments, along with management of certificates and keys and security. Project Photon was focused on providing a VMware-branded minimal Linux distribution designed to support applications and containers in a VMware-centric computing environment.

In my article The Meaning Behind the VMware Projects Photon and Lightwave, I offered my thoughts on what VMware was really doing. At that time, it was my view that VMware was marching down the path of declaring "All your base are belong to us," and directly, openly competing with its "friends" like Microsoft, Red Hat, SUSE and other members of the open source community. Now that version 1 of that project has been announced, let's review how it has changed the dynamics of the market.

VMware positions Photon as being designed to simplify installation, configuration and support of workloads executing in its environment. Having its own OS, identity management, security and operational management tools certainly makes it easier for VMware to state that its true goal is making life simpler for its customers.

Dan's Take: Taking Control
It's also clear that VMware went to this effort to increase its penetration in and control of its customers' computing environments. This means wresting control and revenue from its friends in those same computing environments.

VMware has long contended with Microsoft, Red Hat, SUSE and other OS suppliers to be the primary vendor supporting virtualized environments. For quite some time, the company has used its strength in virtualization technology, to encapsulate and, thus, reduce control other suppliers have of their customers' computing environments.

If the customer uses another Linux distribution, it would be easy for VMware to say, "Why are you using their package when ours is much better integrated into the VMware environment, so your overall costs would be decreased?" Those who took up VMware's offer would simply redirect their support payments from their current supplier to VMware.

If the customer is using Windows, VMware would find it easy to say, "Let's evaluate the functions being supported by Windows. We think that we can reduce your overall costs by switching common functions over to our computing environment. You could reduce the number of your Microsoft licenses, the number of systems you must support and reduce your overall cost of computing." As before, those who took up VMware's offer would simply redirect their support payments from Microsoft to VMware.

A Complex, Competitive Environment VMware's move isn't being made in isolation. Microsoft, Red Hat, SUSE and other suppliers are offering their own VM software, support for containerized applications, management and security software. They're trying to remove VMware, or at least reduce its footprint, in customer datacenters. It only makes sense that VMware would respond by offering its own OS and use the same strategy to reduce or minimize the footprint of these other suppliers in customer datacenters.

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 stack of software at the heart of today's modern applications?

Who Controls the Operating System?
VMware has long been competing 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. This move can be seen as the next move in that ongoing chess match.

As I've mentioned before, the company has acquired or built technology to address all 7 of the layers of virtualization. It has also acquired a Web development and runtime environment allowing it to support applications.

This announcement officially ends the era in which VMware had to rely on 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.

The Key Question: Support for the Platform
We can expect to see all of these vendors to continue to jockey for control of customer computing environments. What still isn't clear is how current applications, application frameworks, database engines and the like will be supported in VMware's Photon environment.

It isn't at all clear, for example, whether Oracle will certify and support its applications, development and deployment tools and database products in VMware's environment. What about IBM and its applications and tools? We could go down the list of application, application development, database, management, and security software suppliers. Will they willingly flock to support VMware's computing environment?

I hope you have your popcorn and soft drinks. The fun is going to continue.

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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