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VMware admits most vSphere users won't build a mini-cloud to run K8s, fixes it with new add-on

Update to vSphere 7 brings container fun without VSAN, NSX or vRealize, but still needs some SDN nous

VMware has pushed out the first update to vSphere 7, and it offers the chance to run containers and Kubernetes alongside VMs on modest collections of servers.

When Virtzilla first integrated vSphere and Kubernetes with the March 2020 release of “Project Pacific”, users were required to run Cloud Foundation, a bundle of vSphere, VSAN, NSX and more.

VMware has suggested Cloud Foundation is the right collection of code for small cloud operators to deploy. It therefore requires rather more hardware and software knowledge than is common among the myriad organisations that use VMware for not much more than server virtualization and/or small private clouds. This is the background behind the introduction of “vSphere with VMware Tanzu”, a containers-on-vSphere add-on that includes VMware's Tanzu Grid K8s distribution.

VMware suggested the new tool could get you running containers from vCentre within hours of pressing "Install". However, the process is complicated, because software-defined networking is required and vSphere’s native capabilities aren’t enough for the job of handling traffic between Kubernetes nodes. VMware is recommending the open-source Antrea Kubernetes networking tool for that role.

Some SDN learning will therefore be required, but at least storage will be familiar because vSphere with VMware Tanzu will work with network-attached storage. As it is vanilla vSphere the new tool will also be able to tap into hybrid clouds that also run VMware's flagship – at least in a “Standard” edition. A lesser “Basic” edition permits only on-prem ops. Forthcoming “Advanced” and “Enterprise” editions will do more, but details have not yet been revealed.

VMware’s Cloud Platform Business Unit marketing veep Lee Caswell told The Register he feels the use of networked storage distinguishes the new product from the likes of Google Anthos or AWS Outposts by offering on-prem K8s without being tied to the storage inside a dedicated appliance.

Caswell added that developers are not the customer for this release. Instead he said he thinks traditional vAdmins who are being asked to run containers or give developers the infrastructure on which to do so are the target. VMware also hopes that an easier on-ramp to containers means organisations that have dabbled with or adopted the likes of OpenShift see the error of their ways and go all-in with VMware instead of creating a Red-Hatted silo just for containers.

Virtzilla must be gambling that by making it easier to run K8s, modest vSphere users feel they can start to re-factor VMs as containers.

This release therefore advances VMware's long-term strategy of encouraging vSphere users to leverage their investment in what they already know and use, while making it possible to do so by keeping it capable of handling newer tools and techniques.

The update to vSphere 7 also brings with it a new ceiling for VM sizes: 24 terabytes of memory and 768 vCPUs. Caswell said the increased capability caters, in part, to AMD’s many-cored EPYC CPUs. vSphere clusters can now climb to 96 hosts if required and in combination with the new bigger VMs helps to run apps like SAP HANA.

VMware has also tweaked its VSAN by allowing data compression without deduplication, plus support SMB v3 and v2.1, Active Directory integration and Kerberos support for network authentication. ®

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