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How Kubernetes became an essential business tool

Read time 3min 40sec
Ed Hoppitt, VMware EMEA.
Ed Hoppitt, VMware EMEA.

It could be argued that the chief purpose of IT is to realise the value of applications, and to deliver them to the business as quickly as possible.

VMware had a couple of announcements this week at VMworld 2019 Europe in Barcelona that address these challenges, and ITWeb spoke to Ed Hoppitt, the company’s EMEA director for modern apps and cloud native platforms, who explained their significance.

Both announcements concern the container orchestration tool Kubernetes. The company announced the beta of Project Pacific, and Tanzu Mission Control. With Tanzu, developers can now manage all their Kubernetes clusters across different cloud providers, and with Pacific, VMware is transforming its vSphere virtualisation platform into a Kubernetes-native platform.

But how did it get here?

VMware is now 21 years old, and its great breakthrough was bringing the notion of virtual servers, or virtual machines (VMs), to life. These new VMs provided a new way, back then, of packaging compute, networking and storage into virtual ‘buckets’ so they can’t interfere with one another. These buckets have been abstracted away from the physical hardware, and are combined together in software defined pools, which, in turn, can be automated, deployed and managed.

And that, says Hoppitt, has pretty much been the company’s focus, or raison d'être, for the past 20 years.

And over these two decades, technologists have been mulling how to reduce the friction of the consumption of IT.

For a long time, everyone was happy with VMs, says Hoppitt, but with the increasing pace of business and the pressure to innovate, a common refrain was that ‘IT was too slow’.

It turns out IT wasn’t the problem, says Hoppitt; it was the fact that applications weren’t built for modern IT. And this, in turn, led to the rise of containers.

Using containers, says Hoppitt, is a ‘lighter’ way of packaging code compared to a VM. They can be quickly deployed, and if something doesn’t work, the (small) change can quickly be rolled back to an earlier version.

He says VMware is of the opinion that it’s high time containers become ‘first class citizens’ in the development ecosystem, and represented the next logical unit of IT consumption. Meanwhile, it has also become necessary to manage, automate and deploy these containers, and this is where Kubernetes come in. It was originally developed at Google for the orchestration of its own containers and an open source version was released in 2014.

Kubernetes makes sure the right containers connect to the right compute, network and storage at the right time.

Spot the difference

Hoppitt says it’s similar to a ‘spot the difference’ children’s game.

“Kubernetes is a giant game of ‘spot the difference’; you show it what ‘good’ looks like, and then the Kubernetes controller looks at what the production container looks like, and compares the two.”

If there’s a problem, it restarts the container.

Put another way, it’s trying to achieve a ‘desired state of management’.

As such, Kubernetes has now become an essential part of software development, and is being included in platforms. In VMware’s case, this has been named ‘Tanzu’, and it’s with Tanzu Mission Control that developers can manage Kubernetes clusters across multiple cloud platforms.

It's high time containers become 'first class citizens' in the development ecosystem.

With Project Pacific, the company is bolting on Kubernetes to vSphere, allowing developers to manage VMs and containers together from one platform.

Businesses are also realising the advantages of operating some parts of their operations in different clouds. This could be because of cost, or because the clouds offer different capabilities, such as better data security, or a superior machine learning service. And it’s this area of ‘cloud economics’ that businesses are now paying attention to, starting with the question: where will their workloads run most efficiently?’

Technology has to match the speed of the business, and this is no less than a business transformation.

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