Agility, mobility, and security. These are three reasons why enterprise organizations are adopting a cloud-native approach developing and maintaining applications and services. But adopting cloud-native is more than microservices and containers. In this article, I will unpack the cloud-native landscape in more detail and explain why I believe companies like VMware are well-positioned for success if they can continue to execute against its strategy with Tanzu.
First, why are enterprises adopting a "cloud-native" mindset?
As I started this article, agility, mobility, and security are three drivers of adopting a cloud-native approach to application development and management.
Agility refers to the ability of the business to respond to the needs of the market quickly. Be it an application feature or capability required by a customer. But that business agility only comes by way of a developer that can quickly add features or functions through a services-based architecture that streamlines the build/test/deploy process. And that technical agility comes by way of an organization that can catalog trusted services that can be used and reused by the business across multiple applications, at any time.
Mobility refers to where an application runs. Your datacenter? The cloud? Multiple clouds? The edge? With a services-based architecture, the answer to all these questions is "yes." With the ability to move as resources on an availability and cost basis.
Security refers to the inherent security that is baked into cloud-native by nature of its distributed services architecture. As applications and data use several services and functions that reside in containers, utilizing software-defined networking, the ability for a hacker to effectively exploit an application and associated data in its entirety is difficult compared with the traditional three-tiered application architecture.
I had the chance to talk with Ian Andrews, VMware's VP Marketing, and I liked the way he described a real example of linking agility to preparing for uncertainty. "I've noticed in recent tech exec interactions that those who had started on digital transformation and modernization efforts in the last few years have seen outsized returns during the pandemic. Well beyond their expectation for a given project."
Andrews had a few examples. He cited, "Advance Auto, a classic retailer had rolled out a new e-commerce effort recently, but during the pandemic, they had to close stores to customer traffic. They quickly pivoted stores to local distribution sites, partnered with local couriers, and today have order online / deliver in 30 minutes in most markets." He also sent me a link to a DICK'S Sporting Goods – VMware Tanzu example of modernization, which was then picked up by CIO's Clint Boulton, discussing what DICK'S did for coronavirus.
While many of us are tired of talking about digital transformation, cloud-native is the mindset, practice, and enabling technology behind the organizations that can differentiate themselves and deal with uncertainty, even if it a pandemic.
Deploying cloud-native at scale requires more than containers
Cloud-native is more than creating a DevOps team and deploying Kubernetes across the organization. Successfully driving to cloud-native is equal parts management of the application development environment and efficient utilization of infrastructure – regardless of where it resides. Let's explore these a little more deeply.
Managing the application development environment is different for the cloud-native organization driven by an open-source approach (and open-source software). IT organizations must enable services and functions to be reused across the organization with ease and confidence if cloud-native is deployed at scale. Further, maintaining a curated list of services and functions that can be reused in any operating environment requires more than a few smart and organized people. It requires a framework that manages the application lifecycle automatically. This capability is where companies like VMware and solutions like Tanzu become so vitally important.
Cloud-native speaks to how applications are designed, developed, and deployed. However, managing infrastructure resources is a fundamental capability that makes cloud-native work. Think about the concept of cloud-native. Run any application, anywhere, at any time. On-prem. In the cloud (or clouds). On the edge. If you cannot do this, you miss out on the power of that Kubernetes cluster you just deployed. In other words, the benefit of cloud-native is quickly diminished if you cannot manage the compute, storage, and networking of your (or cloud providers) infrastructure. When evaluating competing solutions to drive your cloud-native environment, do not overlook this critical element. Instead, make this the starting point in your evaluations. If a solution is unable to ensure the operating environment's consistency across AWS, Azure, GCP, IBM Cloud, and others, chances are it is not the right solution. Infrastructure management is another area where a company like VMware is well-positioned with VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF). It enables the management and monitoring of resources, both on-prem and in the cloud(s).
Myth-busting – containers are not replacing the hypervisor
Plenty of pundits will have you believe that the adoption of cloud-native spells the end of the hypervisor. This position is incorrect, nor do I think it's a well-informed view. In many ways, the hypervisor has become the new operating system (OS) and, in essence, has become the infrastructure control plane. Meaning, managing infrastructure resources – from compute to storage to networking is achieved through the tools used to manage the enterprise virtualization environment.
Understanding the dynamics of the enterprise IT organization is essential to any solutions provider playing in the cloud-native space. Knowing the extent to which enterprise IT organizations depend on virtualization toolsets like those from VMware, Microsoft, and others to manage IT operations tells me that integrating the container environment to these toolsets is the real path to success. For example, when looking at the latest release of VMware's vSphere (v. 7.0), the embedding of Kubernetes simplifies the process of deploying and managing Kubernetes clusters. And this, in turn, enables businesses to realize the benefits of cloud-native more quickly.
What about the performance tax that is introduced by the hypervisor? Doesn't that warrant bare-metal container deployments? This conversation has taken place since virtualization has been in existence, and there are two answers. First, the performance hit associated with virtualization has been significantly reduced due to the hypervisor's maturation. Secondly, the smart IT organization supports bare-metal applications in virtualized environments on an exception basis. And for those containerized applications that cannot afford a sub 5% performance hit, the same approach to managing should apply. That is, they are the exception, not the norm.
The point of this is simple. Containerized environments versus virtualized environments are not some binary "either-or" statement. Instead, it is an "and" statement.
Why I think VMware is well-positioned to be a leader in the cloud-native world
VMware gained market prominence by being a disruptive player in the market. Let us not forget the impact the company had on established players by driving mainstream adoption of virtualization (and its hypervisor & tools) into the infrastructure market. I believe it is this disruptor DNA that enables the company to look at what some may see as threats and embrace as opportunities. Remember when cloud computing spelled the demise of the company? Now you can run your VMware environment in any cloud seamlessly through VMware Cloud Foundation.
The company seems to be taking the very same approach to cloud-native. I believe the announcement of Tanzu as a cloud-native management framework demonstrated the company's understanding of where the market was going and its distinct needs. And equally important, it is end-to-end in its approach, which means full lifecycle management of applications – from concept to sunset.
What I believe makes VMware so uniquely poised for success goes beyond Tanzu, however. It is the company's complete portfolio of products. That is, the combination of Tanzu with VMware Cloud Foundation and vSphere to deliver the application and infrastructure management necessary for successful adoption of cloud-native technologies and methodologies. And that disruptor DNA enables the company to continually look for new growth opportunities – even when cloaked as threats.
Factors for success
As mentioned, I think VMware well poised to be a leader in the cloud-native space. However, to ensure that leadership position, there are three key things the company must do.
- Listen to the market. Listen to customers: Truly understanding the product needs of a technology space requires a company to look at both meta trends in the market and the specific needs of the customer. VMware has historically done a good job of understanding this approach to product development. It should continue as it evolves its portfolio for a market that is exploding, yet still forming to some degree. The company has a rich enough customer base to take market trends and distill into exact customer needs. This approach, in turn, should help the company to stay on the leading edge of delivering complete solutions in the cloud-native space.
- Continue to innovate: VMware has assembled a portfolio of products that enables it to compete successfully in the cloud-native space. However, the market will continue to evolve, new needs will arise, and the company must respond to those needs before customers realize them. Whether through homegrown development or acquisition, VMware must continue to innovate in the cloud-native space if it wishes to further strengthen its leadership position.
- Stay hungry: Cloud-native and the container management space is getting more crowded every day. There are companies (both large and small) trying to stake their claim as the market leader. VMware's success relies heavily on its ability to channel that disruptor DNA. Evidence of its ability to stay hungry will be seen in the first two bullets – an ever-evolving portfolio that is customer-centric.
Cloud-native is the foundation of the digitized business. The smart IT organization realized this some time ago and has begun adopting the technologies and practices that allow it to fully realize the benefits of service-based, distributed application environments.
There are a lot of IT solutions providers rushing to deliver products and services to the cloud-native space, so many that it is hard to keep track. However, the usual suspects have all arrived and have compelling and sometimes slightly different perspectives on how to deploy the most cloud-native environment. I do not believe there is right or wrong when it comes to these solutions—instead, different paths to success.
I believe VMware is well-positioned to lead in the cloud-native space. Because of Tanzu. Because of VMware Cloud Foundation. Because of vSphere. And because of the presence the company's products and tools have in enterprise IT today and its ability to leverage that footprint. Finally, VMware is trusted by enterprises as it has delivered what the company calls a “digital foundation” for decades and I believe that counts a lot.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.