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VMware: Making the Developer a First-Class Datacenter User

Among the more interesting vendor announcements at last week's DockerCon was VMware's preview of two new products: AppCatalyst and Project Bonneville. Both are emblematic of VMware's relatively newly amped up effort to, as Kit Colbert, vice president and CTO of VMware's Cloud-Native Applications group, put it, "make the developer a first-class user of the datacenter through our cloud-native applications."

Colbert gave me a preview of the previews before the show, and explained why the server virtualization giant is pulling out all the stops to create developer-friendly tools.

"We all know that all companies are a becoming more like software companies, in the sense that software is the means by which they engage with users," he said. "IT is now less about minimizing costs and more about driving innovation and differentiation. Consequently, there has been this renewed focus on developers within enterprises and how to empower them, which will drive that business agility and velocity companies are looking for."

VMware responded to that trend with launch of its Cloud-Native Applications group back in April, along with Project Photon, a lightweight Linux distro optimized for cloud-native apps, and Project Lightwave, an open source identity and access management solution for containers.

The group showcased its two latest projects at the Docker event in San Francisco. AppCatalyst is a desktop hypervisor aimed specifically at developers. Driven by a REST API and a Command Line Interface (CLI), it's designed for Linux container development (Docker is fundamentally a Linux technology) by devs working on Macs. It supports Docker Machine, integrates with HashiCorp Vagrant, and ships with Photon.

"We wanted to provide developers with an easy-to-use engine to run their applications, but also to optimize it so they can speed up the local build/test/run/debug cycle," Colbert said. "It's like a datacenter on their laptops."

Project Bonneville is a nascent native container solution for VMware's hypervisor. It's a Docker runtime that will allow users to create containers directly on VMware's ESXi bare-metal hypervisor via the Docker API. The project aims to enable the seamless integration of Docker containers into the vSphere server virtualization platform -- to, as the company says, "bring the VMware ecosystem to Docker containers."

"Developers are flocking to Docker," Colbert said. "It has a lot of momentum. The question for us is, how do we get the ease, speed, and flexibility of the Docker API mapped onto vSphere and give those containers the same level of management and monitoring that the VM infrastructure has today."

Ben Corrie, principal investigator on Project Bonneville, offers a great explanation of the project's approach in a company blog post: "... The pure approach Bonneville takes is that the container is a VM, and the VM is a container. There is no distinction, no encapsulation, and no in-guest virtualization. All of the necessary container infrastructure is outside of the VM in the container host. The container is an x86 hardware virtualized VM -- nothing more, nothing less."

"What this means to a developer," Colbert said, "is that ESX will look like a Docker host, indistinguishable from any other Docker host."

Bonneville comes with Instant Clone, a new feature in vSphere 6 that makes it possible to clone a running VM, which makes it possible to get a new VM booted up and running in less than a second, Colbert said.

Although the focus in the next-gen-app world is around Linux, Bonneville is being designed to run Docker containers on any OS. During a recent internal hackathon, Colbert said, some creative VMwarians used a vanilla Docker client to pull an image of the old school Lemmings game and run it on MS DOS 6.22.

"They were just having fun with it, but I think it's a great proof point of the generalization of the technology," Colbert said.

AppCatalyst was released as a technology preview at DockerCon, and it's available for download here. VMware expects to make it generally available later this year. The company is currently distributing Project Bonneville internally and expects to begin private beta testing in the third quarter of this year.

Posted by John K. Waters on July 6, 2015