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What is Photon OS, and why would I use it in my data center?

Due to its scalability, low cost and fast deployment, container technology is on the rise. How does VMware harness the power of containers in a vSphere environment?

The role of containers in enterprise workload development and implementation continues to grow. Container benefits, such as low overhead, fast deployment and high scalability, make them attractive for next-generation enterprise applications in dynamic, software-driven data centers. Linux and Hyper-V environments already offer container support, and VMware has recently zeroed in on container support for vSphere with the release of VMware Photon OS for vSphere environments.

The Photon OS was designed to provide a lightweight, open source Linux container host runtime optimized for VMware platforms, including vSphere 5.5, vSphere 6, vCloud Air, VMware Fusion and VMware Workstation Pro. In effect, vSphere users can employ Photon to use containers most efficiently in VMware environments. The Photon OS runtime is compatible with other container formats, including Docker, Rkt and Garden runtimes. For example, Photon allows you to migrate and run containers already developed and deployed on Docker platforms in vSphere environments.

Photon OS provides a container package lifecycle management capability that includes image-based version controls. These features support Yellowdog Updater, Modified package installation, updates and removal for Red Hat package manager tools. Photon is also compatible with development tools, including Fusion and Workstation Pro, as well as support for HashiCorp's Atlas suite and Vagrant boxes. This combination of compatible tools and platforms helps developers and IT operations staff shepherd containers seamlessly from development to production in an enterprise.

By developing an OS specifically tailored to handle containers on vSphere, VMware is able to remove all Linux modules that aren't absolutely necessary to run containers on vSphere. The result is a small, high-performance OS runtime that can be further tuned to operate well within complex virtualization issues, like hypervisor scheduling, interrupts and so on.

As with other Linux implementations, Photon is available as an open source OS. This allows other developers and IT professionals to refine and optimize Photon further and customize the Photon OS for optimal workload performance and container support, such as adding or altering other Linux components under vSphere. Another goal of open sourcing Photon is to spark development of security and interoperability, which can lead to better and broader container usage.

Photon brings a refined and validated OS, but it's important to note that Photon isn't required to host containers on vSphere. For example, enterprise users can run any container-aware version of Linux in a vSphere VM, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and then deploy containers atop the VM's respective Linux kernel.

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