VMware gets its Kubernetes game on

After years in the background, VMware has emerged as a major contributor to the Kubernetes open source project

VMware gets its Kubernetes game on
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Not so long ago (2013), VMware dismissed containers as a trifle, even as the industry went gaga over their potential to up-end the virtualization market. By 2014, VMware started to embrace containers, announcing partnerships with Docker and Google, the latter to improve Kubernetes compatibility with VMware’s software. Even then, however, VMware was more interested in finding ways to defend itself from the rising container tide, rather than helping navigate it.

No more.

As seen in CNCF contributor data for the Kubernetes open source project, VMware is increasingly keen on steering the Kubernetes ship. Once a relative rounding error in terms of Kubernetes contributions compared to Google and IBM’s subsidiary Red Hat, today VMware is nearly equal with Red Hat’s contributions, giving it the potential to better support (and sell) a Kubernetes future.

Code is currency—and influence

In open source, being the source of the code is critical, given the difficulty of charging for source code. A large bank, for example, will have scads of developers on staff, allowing the bank to keep up with a fast-moving project like Kubernetes.

What the bank lacks, however, is influence with the project. Such influence comes with code. Although Thomas Dinsmore is absolutely correct that “code doesn’t necessarily mean influence,” it’s also true that not contributing code to an open source project definitely means no influence.

So, if that bank plans to pay for Kubernetes support, it’s going to direct its money to a vendor that not only has smart engineers on staff who can track the project’s progress, but that can also get pull requests accepted (to expedite bug fixes, for example). Not surprisingly, Google and Red Hat have been the biggest contributors to Kubernetes, and have derived the most revenue from it (OpenShift, in the case of Red Hat).

This brings us to VMware.

VMware increases its code contributions

Kubernetes was born within Google and open sourced by it, so it’s not surprising that Google has dominated the project’s development for so long. During the lifetime of the project, Google has accounted for 38.5 percent of all contributions. What is surprising, however, is that Red Hat has managed to do as much as it has, accounting for 17 percent of all contributions since the project’s inception. Once Red Hat fixed its OpenShift cloud strategy on Kubernetes, it dramatically ramped up its involvement in the container orchestration leader, giving it influence to guide Kubernetes development.

VMware, at merely 2.7 percent of Kubernetes contributions, appeared for a long time to be engaged just enough to be able to tell its virtualization customers: “Oh, you want Kubernetes? Sure, we know all about it.” Except that VMware didn’t.

Like Red Hat, VMware has seen its customer base start to bet big on Kubernetes, and it determined it had to do something. The company first bought Heptio, which had two of the original Kubernetes creators in its management team. Just this month VMware dug into its wallet to buy Bitnami, further strengthening its Kubernetes story.

But this isn’t yet about cash. It’s about code. In that area, VMware is showing up really, really well. 

During the past year Google was responsible for 28 percent of all Kubernetes contributions; Red Hat made 11 percent, and VMware: 7 percent. Not too shabby.

If we look at this past quarter, however, we see a serious challenge from VMware to become a big-three Kubernetes vendor. Google remains in the lead, though that lead is dwindling (which, incidentally, is a sign of impressive community stewardship by Google, not a weakness). In the past quarter, Google delivered 26 percent of all Kubernetes contributions, Red Hat: 9 percent, VMware: also 9 percent.

That’s right. In the past quarter VMware’s Kubernetes contributions rivaled Red Hat’s.

All of this is great for the Kubernetes community and for downstream customers. It’s also really good for VMware, as it positions the virtualization giant to play a significant role in shaping a container-filled future. Before VMware talked a good game, but now it’s putting its code where its mouth is.