Don’t Sweat The Upstream Kubernetes


Today, everyone wants to use Kubernetes. Most potential Kubernetes users are already using it or planning to use it. But everyone knows Kubernetes is a hard nut to crack. To help customers use Kubernetes more efficiently, there is a booming ecosystem this open source technology contributed by Google.

Vendors offer everything from Kuberenetes as a service to Kubernetes distributions. Most such services are opinionated, tightly integrated with other technologies chosen by a particular vendor. There are many users who do want to use fully supported Kubernetes, but they want the freedom to choose other technologies with Kuberentes. Their options are limited.

VMware is changing that by a new member to its Kubernetes family. VMware PKS Essential is joining VMware Enterprise PKS and VMware Cloud PKS.

A family of three!

The PKS (Pivotal Container Service) family of Kubernetes solutions is jointly developed by VMware and Pivotal (Trivia: Pivotal originated from EMC and VMware. Today, Dell owns all three companies – EMC, VMware and Pivotal).

VMware Enterprise PKS is rebranded VMware PKS that is designed as a turnkey solution for those who want to ‘consume’ Kubernetes and focus entirely on their applications.

“It’s the most complete container management solution that includes registry, networking, and life-cycle management. It’s integrated and validated to allow customers to operate Kubernetes most easily,” said Scott Buchanan Sr. Director, Product Marketing at VMware. “All of these components are configured, set-up and ready to go.”

VMware Cloud PKS is a Kubernetes-as-a-Service offering available to those who want to get their hands on Kubernetes clusters in minutes without having to manage or maintain anything.

VMware Essential PKS, in contrast, is a totally different beast. It’s minimal and modular Kubernetes offering that comes with ‘just enough’ Kubernetes. It comes with the upstream Kubernetes binaries, reference architectures to inform design decisions, and commercial support from VMware to assist users through upgrades or maintenance and reactively troubleshoot if/when needed.

VMware Essential PKS is available under an annual subscription plan. Major highlights of this subscription include:

  • Signed upstream Kubernetes binaries. When a new Kubernetes version is released, VMware works with the open-source community to test and harden it upstream. As soon as that version is ready for enterprise production workloads, you get access to the upstream binaries, signed for your security needs.
  • Architecture design and deployment guidance. Reference architectures and tooling that streamline an open, cloud-native architecture design and
  • Proactive, expert support. 24×7, SLA-driven support for upstream Kubernetes and related open-source tools, and customer reliability engineering to guide you through upgrades, architecture design changes, and maintenance.

Freedom of technology and environment

VMware Essential PKS is designed for those who want to ‘use’ upstream open source Kubernetes without having to invest any resources in patching, upgrading and maintaining it. Why would they want that when they can use something like VMware Enterprise PKS?

Like any other enterprise Kubernetes distribution, VMware Enterprise PKS is opinionated and tightly integrated with technologies VMware and Pivotal have chosen. While VMware Enterprise PKS is suitable for most Kubernetes users, there are users who have already invested in Kubernetes. These users have made their bets on different technologies and they want the flexibility to use whatever they want along with Kubernetes. But, they don’t want the overhead cost – in terms of in-house talent and resources – that comes with maintaining ‘open source’ Kubernetes.

That’s where Essential PKS enters the picture. “These customers are coming to the table with either strong preferences for specific technologies that they want to use or they want to build on an environment, like bare metal, that is not served by Enterprise PKS,” said Buchanan.  “These customers prize the flexibility of Essential because they want a highly customized footprint.” Users can mix and match technologies from different open source projects and solutions from different vendors.

Two major benefits of Essential PKS are:

  • True application portability. Users can get up and running on the latest version of pure, upstream Kubernetes, without any risk of vendor lock-in. VMware Essential PKS is certified by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation through the Kubernetes Software Conformance Certification program.
  • Flexibility to choose tools and clouds. It comes with cloud-native reference architectures as a guide to design and build a flexible platform on upstream Kubernetes and complementary open-source tools. Customers can choose the right tools and clouds to rapidly create market-leading products and features.

VMware Essential PKS is not for mere mortals. It’s aimed at very large and complex organizations that demand highly customizable solutions. They have already made inroads into using Kubernetes and have in-house Kubernetes expertise.

Fruition of Heptio Acquisition

VMware completed the acquisition of Heptio last year. Heptio was created by two co-founders of Kubernetes (Joe Beda and Craig McLuckie; the third co-founder, Brandan Burns, works at Microsoft). Heptio has the expertise unparalleled by others. Heptio knows all the pain points that customers face with Kubernetes. Essential PKS is the outcome of work Heptio had done with customers around Kubernetes.

Buchanan told said that a lot of organizations want to use Kubernetes. They see the business impact of Kubernetes. But they are also aware of the investments and resources they need to dedicate towards Kubernetes. Over time they realize that there are a lot of decisions that need to be made early on in how they design their footprint. Kubernetes is still a relatively new technology, there is a learning curve. So, these users tend to rely on an entity that has that expertise.

“Heptio was able to compile it [a solution] in a condensed fashion to help such customers. And now, as part of VMware, Heptio is able to scale that expertise that resulted in Essential PKS,” said Buchanan. “We had over 40 Kubernetes architects who had worked in the field, hands-on with these enterprises to help guide them through the decisions that they had to make around things like logging, tracing, monitoring, etc.”

As part of VMware, those Kuberenest architects are being threaded into a larger professional services organization. Heptio had a series of training and workshops for customers. Now, through VMware Education, it can take that Kubernetes know-how to far more enterprises.

“It’s the realized potential of this acquisition that has come to Fruition at very short order,” said  Buchanan.

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