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VMware Tanzu super users mull Cloud Foundry-Kubernetes meld

Users of VMware Tanzu Application Service, formerly Pivotal Cloud Foundry, hope VMware preserves their developer experience as it shifts its focus toward Kubernetes.

Early adopters of VMware's Cloud Foundry platform reflected on a year of uncertainty and their hopes about the VMware Tanzu roadmap during VMworld this week.

Before there was VMware Tanzu, there was Pivotal Cloud Foundry, which built a loyal enterprise user base until Kubernetes rose to prominence. Among these users was an advisory group of "super users" called Vanguard. The group's 250 members in the U.S., Europe and Asia still meet weekly to discuss the PaaS platform and its future. They have seen seismic changes in the last two years.

These upheavals began with VMware's acquisition of Pivotal in 2019. Since then, VMware has rebranded Pivotal Cloud Foundry as Tanzu Application Service (TAS), introduced and then scrapped an effort to merge Cloud Foundry's developer interface with Kubernetes infrastructure, and then, last month, rolled out a purely Kubernetes-based Tanzu Application Platform (TAP).

Greg Meyer, Cerner Corp.Greg Meyer

"Late last year, there was a lot of concern within the Vanguard about the ongoing support for Cloud Foundry," said Greg Meyer, distinguished engineer at Kansas City-based healthcare IT firm Cerner Corp. and a Vanguard member. "I was one of the vocal folks in here, because I think a lot of the messaging that they were giving us in ... presentations seemed to be very much focused toward, 'Hey, we're putting all our eggs into Kubernetes.'"

While Meyer said he was concerned VMware would try to push Cloud Foundry loyalists toward Kubernetes, he also said he understood the market appeared more interested in the newer container orchestration platform.

"Kubernetes has a lot of maturity, why go and try to support ... something that's probably starting to show its age, when you've got something else [with] a lot more support around it?" he said. "So I get why they did that."

VMware reps were able to reassure Meyer and other Cloud Foundry users that they'd continue to support TAS despite a clear push toward Kubernetes. VMware officials also said last month that while the first attempt to combine the Cloud Foundry "cf-push" developer experience with Kubernetes wouldn't reach general availability, they hadn't given up on combining the two eventually.

Meyer and other TAS users said this week they're open to considering Kubernetes in the future.

As a platform operator, I see the need to offer Kubernetes to my customers. The idea of running two separate platforms brings with it a high cognitive load.
Jonathan RegehrPlatform architect, Garmin

"As a platform operator, I see the need to offer Kubernetes to my customers," said Jonathan Regehr, a Vanguard member and platform architect at consumer electronics vendor Garmin, based in Olathe, Kan. "The idea of running two separate platforms brings with it a high cognitive load."

Whatever form VMware TAS takes in the future, however, the Cloud Foundry developer experience remains sacrosanct to users such as Meyer.

"It should be just as easy," he said of the future VMware Tanzu developer interface. "There are a lot of pieces at the operator level that developers shouldn't have to worry about."

Cloud Foundry Vanguard watches TAP

VMware's pitch for TAP, launched at the SpringOne virtual conference last month, sounds very familiar to members of Cloud Foundry Vanguard. It emphasizes a separation between the tasks of developers and IT operators, even if in some organizations the same person might share both duties. And while TAP doesn't present the same "cf-push" interface, its abstraction of Kubernetes infrastructure away from application developers does seem to recreate the underlying concept.

Updates in the TAP beta 2 version unveiled by VMware this week also increased the conceptual similarities between the new platform and Cloud Foundry, according to Meyer, who said he's been awaiting support for service bindings while watching TAP's development.

TAS can create Cloud Foundry manifests that link developer applications to platform resources through Open Service Broker. TAP beta 2 added limited support for an open source Kubernetes service binding project supported by VMware, Red Hat and others that VMware officials said will function similarly within TAP.

"[Under TAS], the developer doesn't have to worry about configuring credentials and URLs -- service binding pulls that together," Meyer said. "That's another piece that's had me worried."

TAP could even represent an opportunity for improvement over Cloud Foundry infrastructure components for platform operators, Regehr said.

"There are times where, if something on my end of the interface goes down, I lose logs," he said during the Q&A portion of a VMworld panel session. "So, some better integration, and lossless forms of logging would be great in Tanzu Application Platform."

TAS is simpler than Kubernetes, but more rigid in dictating how applications should traverse pipelines to production -- TAP could introduce customizability that would be helpful to his organization as it evolves, Regehr said, especially when it comes to configuring network routing between the public internet and applications.

Meyer said he's interested in how TAP could lend itself to stateful applications such as MySQL databases, which Cloud Foundry isn't designed to support.

"I am optimistic about TAP," he said. "If the folks that are developing services like MySQL and RabbitMQ have all got a common platform to run applications and data services on, that makes a lot more sense."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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