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Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown

When you are the recognized leader in anything, a plethora of contenders are always more than willing to remove you from your exalted status. Examples of this fact surround us. In the movies, it’s the young hot-headed gunslinger itching to take on the guy with the most notches on his pistol; in sports, it’s any team or anyone seeking to take the title from the reigning champ; and in virtualization, it’s VMware – and lately, they’ve been feeling a little uneasy themselves.

Now before anyone starts getting crazy, let’s all agree that VMware is in no immediate danger of falling victim to a competitor-led coup—Venezuela these guys aren’t—but the emergence of Docker does seem to indicate that a powerful junta is gathering on the horizon. Naturally, the next step in these types of assaults on the marketplace summit is that schisms begin to develop within the industry community and virtualization market is no different. In a recent statement, HPE’s Meg Whitman commented that container technology, like Docker, could make VMware irrelevant. Now things haven’t been going too well for the folks at HPE recently, but I think everyone recognizes a shot across the bow when they see one.

In many respects, virtualization and containerization can operate as complementary technologies – containers provide O/S abstraction while virtual machines offer hardware abstraction. In IaaS instances VMware (or any virtual machine application) provides the ideal fit, while containers are best suited for the packaging and shipping portable and modular software. Docker containers could be created within VMs to enhance the portability of a solution, for example.

A key point of differentiation between virtualization and containers is the ease of deployment. Since Docker does not create a full virtual machine, but rather since with Docker containers applications only ship what they need to run they are easier to deploy and faster to start up than virtual machines. However, virtual machines provide machine level isolation and thereby reduce the chances for interference or exploitation that may be found within Docker, or any other, container based implementations. Thus, each technology offers its own pros and cons.

I think the biggest problem that VMware faces is combating the fickleness of the data center industry as a whole. Don’t we all want what’s new and shiny versus the old and stodgy? While our predisposition towards all things new isn’t always the soundest strategy—remember when everyone had to have Blue Ray DVDs—Docker, and container technology in general, appears to offer benefits that are tightly aligned with the need for easier and faster applications deployment in our ever growing cloud environments thereby making them a serious alternative to virtualization.

Of course none of this means that VMware will ultimately have to relinquish its throne. In all likelihood, coexistence of virtualization and containerization within the data center will become the standard mode of utilization since the weaknesses of one will be offset by the strengths of its companion. Thus, VMware may ultimately have to share its throne, but doesn’t every king need a queen?