VMware extends container campaign with open source Photon Controller

Photon Controller is part of a larger mission to give VMware another toehold in the post-VM world

VMware extends container campaign with open source Photon Controller
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When VMware unveiled its Photon Platform infrastructure stack for running "cloud native" (read: containerized) applications earlier this year, the company promised we'd eventually get all of Photon's bits as open source. Now, one of the key pieces of Photon Platform, Photon Controller, has delivered on the plan.

Think of Photon Controller as VMware's open source answer to vCenter Server: It manages and delivers components like Mesos, Docker, and Kubernetes throughout a multitenanted environment. It doesn't supersede the other pieces, but provides a fabric for and automates work with them.

Photon Controller is used to drive instances of Photon Machine, a small ESX-based hypervisor to provide what VMware calls "just enough" virtualization to run a container stack. The different pieces of Controller talk to each other via endpoints registered in Apache Zookeeper, and they can be set for different work models across multiple nodes: active/active, active/passive, or via scheduler only. All details about the nodes are shared via an open source framework called Xenon.

Notably, Photon Platform is offered mainly as an adjunct to VMware's existing environments and tool sets. Take hypervisor support, for instance. According to the press notes for Controller, "The agent [for each controlled host] is designed to be hypervisor agnostic, but the only implementation of the agent is on ESX [and] is written in Python and talks to ESX via public APIs."

VMware wants the open source nature of the project to spur others to support more hypervisors for it, so it's useful to wider audiences. The company even says in its press notes that the project was open-sourced to "engage directly with developers, customers, and partners."

Mainly, VMware is trying to accomplish two tasks: First, it wants to protect its market share with enterprises that are already heavily invested in VMware but are growing curious about containers. But it also wants to find relevance with startups or smaller outfits that are skipping VMs entirely and going straight to container technology. VMware's enterprise strength comes from its rich culture of management tools, so the new stack will be manageable through VMware's existing tools, too.

The real test for Photon Controller will be whether or not it finds an audience apart from its origins, in the same manner as the other pieces of the open source container ecosystem. Kubernetes may have been created by Google to keep its own wheels turning, but it's found use cases outside of that environment. Photon and its stack have must attain that wide appeal to be more than VMware's hedged bet.