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Kubernetes on VMware gains a lifeline with Heptio acquisition

VMware's Heptio buy brings it Kubernetes chops that will help it make a multi-cloud bid, but it will struggle to raise its profile in open source container management, industry watchers predict.

With the proposed acquisition of Heptio, Kubernetes on VMware gains some open source street cred, but VMware's appeal to enterprise customers outside the server virtualization install base is still questionable.

The deal, for an undisclosed amount, will see VMware fold in IP and engineering talent from Seattle-based Heptio, founded in 2016 by Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, two of Kubernetes' original creators at Google. Beda also serves on the Cloud Native Computing Foundation's Kubernetes steering committee. VMware will bring McLuckie, Beda and other Heptio engineers into its cloud-native applications group. Heptio's IP, which includes the Heptio Kubernetes Subscription, Ark disaster recovery and backup utility, Sonobuoy Kubernetes conformance tester and Contour and Gimbal container networking projects, is slated for integration into VMware Pivotal Kubernetes Service (PKS).

Heptio brings a lot of IP to the table that VMware PKS didn't offer, said Paul Fazzone, senior vice president and general manager at VMware. "It will add additional conformance, audit, networking control and egress management to on-premises vSphere and VMware Cloud PKS," he said.

VMware's acquisition of Heptio comes days after IBM's blockbuster $34 billion buy of Red Hat, which also focused on Kubernetes management IP, as a vehicle for multi-cloud computing. Like IBM, VMware will offer a cloud-agnostic multi-cloud approach to Kubernetes, Fazzone said.

Craig McLuckie HeptioCraig McLuckie

There is one big contrast, however. IBM intends to keep its new Red Hat subsidiary a stand-alone company, to overcome perceptions of a clash with IBM's proprietary-minded culture. VMware has no such plans to let Heptio remain independent. VMware PKS remains strongly attached to vSphere, and vSphere license costs, in its on-premises form.

"It comes across as protectionist of its vSphere revenue," said Gary Chen, analyst at IDC.

In the future, VMware should consider an edition of vSphere optimized for PKS that would lower customers' costs and compete more easily with free open source container management products, Chen said. Otherwise, Kubernetes on VMware faces competition not only from Kubernetes management vendors but from open source micro-VM products such as Kata Containers and Google's gVisor.

Kubernetes on VMware must weather market attrition

Aside from IBM and Red Hat, enterprise IT pros already have a plethora of multi-cloud Kubernetes management products to choose from. Open source Cloud Foundry brushed up integrations between the Cloud Foundry Application Runtime and BOSH workload scheduler with Kubernetes last month. Mesosphere's Kubernetes Engine, released in general availability last week, offers a multi-cloud Kubernetes management service without the need for server virtualization. There are also smaller independent vendors such as Rancher Labs, whose Kubernetes management tools have captured the attention of erstwhile VMware shops such as satellite communications firm Viasat.

Enterprise IT buyers should expect consolidation to continue between big publicly traded IT software vendors and the multitude of Kubernetes management startups that have sprung up since Kubernetes version 1.0 came out in 2015. Therefore, enterprises should place their bets carefully, as there undoubtedly will be attrition in an already crowded market.

Enterprises will have fewer infrastructure engineers and more developers, so [vendors such as VMware] need to ... appeal to the growing community, not the shrinking one.
Carmen DeArdoindependent DevOps consultant and senior value stream management strategist, Tasktop

"Moving forward, enterprises will have fewer infrastructure engineers and more developers, so [vendors such as VMware] need to ... appeal to the growing community, not the shrinking one," said Carmen DeArdo, an independent DevOps consultant, as well as a senior value stream management strategist at Tasktop, a software lifecycle management company in Vancouver. "This [acquisition] could help temporarily as companies transition to that model, but we are at the turning point, and only a few companies in this category are likely to make it through."

Vendors such as VMware can offer customers security and compliance features, as well as enterprise tech support on Kubernetes. While pure upstream Kubernetes deployments are en vogue among some enterprises that don't want to be locked in to a cloud or IT infrastructure vendor, plenty of users will look for enterprise distributions from known vendors, IDC's Chen said.

"Kubernetes' quarterly release cycle is still moving so fast that usually enterprises want to stay one release behind and have the support of vendors," Chen said. "Heptio's approach to Kubernetes is very, very clean and focused more on building tools around upstream Kubernetes than offering its own distribution."

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