I recently spent the day at the VMware User Group London (VMUG London) meeting, learning about some interesting products and technologies. As well as getting a glimpse at some of the things VMware has coming on the horizon.

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Container technologies are becoming more and more popular and it’s no suprise that VMWare are getting in on the party. The first thing we were introduced to was VMware AppCatalyst: a Mac only desktop hypervisor tuned to container based app development. It is essentially VMware Fusion (minus the gui), Vagrant and Docker Machine.

This is not much different to what ‘DevOps’ people have been doing with Vagrant, Docker Machine and VirtualBox (or any other desktop hypervisor) for a while now. See Matt’s post about this approach. However, as the presentation pointed out, VMware’s product audience tends to be ‘Infrastructure’ people rather than people with development expertise. So the key thing about this free product is to introduce the concepts around containers to people from an infrastructure background.

The next part of the presentation focused on vSphere Integrated Containers. This brings container deployment and management capabilities to vSphere and vCenter. It’s implemented as an appliance you deploy into your vSphere environment. So once this is installed, instead of provisioning VM’s you can just deploy containers.

VMware have been developing their own lightweight Linux distro – PhotonOS – for a while now. This forms the base OS with the container capability. But they have taken it a little further, by pushing down some of the OS functionality into the vSphere layer.

This project leads on to the next thing, which is something entirely new. A container focussed platform called VMware Photon Platform. This consists or two new products: Photon Machine and Photon Controller. Photon Machine is where the container instances run. Dubbed a ‘microvisor’ rather than a hypervisor – it is based on tried and tested ESX code base, but stripped right down to run a minimal instance of PhotonOS. Photon Controller is the management interface for configuring all your Photon Machines. VMware are developing these as open source. So you can go get early builds off these tools or contribute to the projects via their github repo. VMware have interestingly chosen not to develop any container management capabilities. Instead, they are taking the agnostic approach and allowing users to pick between or mix Cloud Foundry, Kubernutes or Mesos.

The next session was on vRealize Automation 7.0 which has undergone a dramatic transformation from the previous 6.3 release. vRA aims to solve the problem of abstracting provisioning operations to end users. For me, it was interesting to comparte to HP’s product Cloud Service Automation (CSA). I plan to write up a full comparison in a future post.

The new concept introduced in vRA 7.0 is ‘Blueprints’ – these are almost analogous to ‘Service Designs’ in the CSA world. However, they take quite a different approach. A blueprint is actually a portable YAML file which contains all of the deployment details for a service. This makes everything more flexible because of the programmability aspect. In addition the YAML is easier for humans to read in comparison to the quite incomprehensible XML format used to describe designs in CSA.

The demo involved showing the deployment of a WordPress instance on premises and the ability to apply the same blueprint on AWS. Another demo involved showing a blueprint targeting on-premises, AWS and Azure – then comparatively pricing each deployment option. The pricing information comes from a VMWare hosted webservice which pulls up to date pricing information from the various cloud providers.

On the whole a very fruitful day, where I got to meet some very interesting people working on interesting virtualisation problems.

Photos courtesy of Simon Eady (left) and Chris Dearden (right).

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