Why Docker is the new VMware (part 2)

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Last week a tweet by Duncan Epping based on my post in part 1 referred to a page from Massimo Re Ferre and I think Duncan’s intent was to downplay the effect of my post and emphasize the technological differences between the solutions VMware offers (with the bold mark on vSphere) and the new technologies that are emerging on the horizon (as Massimo mentions in his post and I highlighted before in the likes of Docker (or containerization of applications) and, even more abstracted, Lambda model as AWS does. The latter plays even more into the virtualization model I described in an even earlier post I wrote around 5 years ago (over here). (Talk about long term vision)

There is a distinct difference between the technological model and what actually goes on in board-rooms. There isn’t a single executive interested in which technology supports his/her business. The decisions being made over there are done in three way model. CAPEX/OPEX, Risk and ROI. These are mapped onto individual business requirements and the resulting technology is chosen from there. Currently VMware is extremely well cemented mainly because of the risk and ROI factor. (They are certainly not cheap.)

The reason for that is linked to history. VMware filled a niche market in the late 90’s early 2000’s which they were the only ones (besides the high end mainframe and UNIX vendors) who provides a method of creating virtual machines that just sit in software instead of having them bolted onto hardware. They were the first one of doing this on Intel based x86 processors platforms and this massively improved overall resource utilization which inherently greatly reduced the CAPEX and, because of easier management, OPEX. When HA features like vMotion and fail-over capabilities were introduced the risk-factor dramatically dropped allowing for a more wide-spread adoption in the data-centre. Over the years there hasn’t changed much in the concept of virtualization of operating systems and the applications tied to them. Of course VMware created a huge eco-system around their hypervisor and beefed it up significantly with all sorts of tools, features, gadgets etc etc. The switch from VMware server to a bare-bone hypervisor allowed for a significant reduction in host resource requirements which could then be better used by the virtual machines.

The inherent problem still is that there is a huge overhead in the necessity of needing to run virtual machines. If you have 400 VM’s loaded onto a host this still means you need 400 times the resources of memory, storage, CPU and the rest of hardware kit just to be able to run these OS’s. You haven’t even installed a single app or used a single CPU cycle on any business related transaction.

This brings me back to what is the essential back-bone of CxO decisions. You have to do more with less therefore reducing CAPEX/OPEX and improving ROI. The only thing holding back these decision points is risk. The maturity of technologies like Docker and AWS Lambda services is most likely the most important contributing factors of companies to not adopt these just yet but I guarantee you they are certainly on the radar and many companies are exploring them as I write this.

Duncan highlighted the point that it is not realistic to see applications change overnight and I agree.


That being said though, this is also the same argument that led to the demise of DEC, SCO, SUN, Silicon Graphics and others. Lack of diversity in revenue generating technologies (not products) made sure these companies do no longer exist or were easy targets for hostile takeovers. A similar thing that could have happened to Microsoft as well. Microsoft hammered on Linux 10 years ago about it (Linux) being the cancer of IT and should be eradicated . Come today and Windows in the data-centre is being bypassed by Linux left and right and the overall revenue from the Windows server editions has plummeted tremendously. The only reason Microsoft is still alive today is because there is not a real user-friendly alternative on the desktop and in the office application space hence they still hold around 98% market share which keeps them afloat (comfortably I must say. :-)). Azure, albeit a great platform, still suffers from adoption rates as there are many cloud-service providers out there. HP, Rackspace, AWS etc etc. and as such the competition is extremely high.

The danger for VMware is time. The limitation in diversity of the product-set all centralized around the hypervisor may be its Achilles heel. If VMware is not creating a technology set independent of ESX they may run into the same hole as Microsoft did with Windows Server. Companies who matter most to business related applications like SAP, Oracle and other CRM based systems are not tied to VMware or a certain OS. If they see a good business case in creating container based applications which they can sell/lease/whatever and increase their revenue streams they most certainly will. This will then totally bypass any need of a hypervisor, and accompanied VM/OS.

Obviously the ESX hypervisor eco-system is not VMware’s only revenue cow. The cloud services and alliances with other tech-companies make sure there is a fairly consistent amount of money flowing to Palo Alto but techno-companies are not known for their long-term commitments. If they see market opportunities which lead to more revenue streams and better profitability they most certainly will jump ship or at least start nibbling on the vSphere sales numbers.

To conclude. My earlier posts mentioned above were not targeted to try and differentiate between Docker and VMware on a technology level. I run around in this business for over 20 years so accusing me of doing that is an indication you did not catch my intention.

I have a massive respect for VMware, their people and what they have achieved over the last 15 odd years. Their product-set, features, functions and capabilities is second-to-none and the level of engineering, pre-sales, services and support is outstanding. If there is one company who I would trust in bringing in a new technology-set like Docker or AWS Lambda service it would be VMware. They should get moving though since time is ticking and there is no niche market anymore in this space which could allow them to set their product and technology platforms in an even stronger slab of concrete.

I hope this explains my previous posts and how they should be interpreted.



About Erwin van Londen

Master Technical Analyst at Hitachi Data Systems
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  • Duncan

    To be honest, I had no intend to down play anything. I do strongly believe though that things do not happen over night. In your article you more or less elude to his, maybe without realizing:

    “Companies like E-bay, Spotify are happily harnessing the power and flexibility of Docker. Also well-know search engines like Yandex and Baidu are using Docker for a multitude of functions.”

    The reason companies like e-bay etc are successful in deploying these types of technologies is because they have a completely different application stack then most enterprises. You want to ask yourself next why it is that virtualization has been so successful, and in my opinion that is mainly because it offered a couple of things :

    1) higher utilization of resources
    2) mobility
    3) availability

    And it did this without any disruption to the workload, no changes to the application or even OS required besides the installation of some drivers. That is the big difference with what you are describing and what companies like e-bay are doing.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe the world is changing. Containers but more importantly distributed application architectures are the way of the future, but knowing how many enterprises operate and how little control they (unfortunately) have over a vast majority of their application stack I also realize that it is not realistic to expect this to change drastically within lets say 5-6 years, at least not for the portion they do not own internally. Again, yes the world of IT is changing… but hasn’t it always been?

    • evlonden

      Hi Duncan,

      Thanks for your response. I agree the success of VMware was partly contributed by your arguments but it has been mainly skyrocketing due to the lack of competition in that niche market for the entire 2000/2010 decade. That market has not really changed from a technological perspective but additional choice in hypervisor technologies from a multitude of vendors are fishing in that same pond now. Given the fact that currently the maturity of the VMware hypervisor, its contributing technologies and eco-system make it an obvious candidate on each short-list.

      The companies mentioned in Docker’s “use-cases” have the advantage of being able to target very specific applications which makes adoption easier. The same thing we see here in Australia where Openstack is very well represented in the education sector. The major threat for VMware is however the fact that vendors like Oracle and SAP are in a very comfortable position when it comes to shifting their products into containerized formats and do not longer need to take OS interoperability into account. That means much shorter dev-cycles and therefore much improved code resiliency. As soon as that happens the majority of main-stream business applications are available for current customers who run this on hardware or VM’s and that fact, combined with an even less resource hungry virtualisation stack like Docker and AWS Lambda, will certainly eat big-time into VMware’s sales-number. As I said, when push comes-to-shove in the end it’s about the $$ and if a CIO can save by squeezing even more juice out of his/hers hardware they most certainly will.

      As for time-lines it’s always hard to predict. I don’t have insight into roadmaps from SAP, Oracle and other major companies in this space. I would not be surprised though that they have been exploring these kind technologies for quite a while now and all of a sudden whack products on the market which fit in this space. Customers who have been exploring the same technology will most certainly adopt very quick.

      Again, thanks for your feedback.


      • Duncan

        Personally I am not sure the overhead difference is that big, we are primarily talking disk space here for now and with advanced techniques like VMfork and smart linked cloning technology even that will diminish. For many enterprise companies there is no benefit in having 2 or 3 different operational strategies, it will simply not be cost effective and will be too complex. On top of that there is the whole security aspect, companies like Google run their containers in a VM for a reason.

        Anyway, this is an interesting discussion… but with your background I do wonder how you feel how this will impact the world of storage. Especially with this new highly distributed application architectures the need for expensive shared storage systems start to disappear for a large portion of the stack. How will Docker, but more so the distributed architecture, eat your lunch?

        • evlonden

          🙂 Replying whilst eating lunch… haha..

          I can’t comment on what Google is running or not. Under NDA here.

          Its fortunate enough I work for a company who’s bare-bone roots lie in large-scale compute infrastructures (mainframe compatible kit) and a huge background in storage but the main benefit is that we (as HDS) are not solely tied to compute infrastructures and related materials. As a subsidiary of Hitachi we have the benefit we tie in with a massive amount of diverse, technology related, sister companies which has opened up a huge playground of opportunities, City smart-grids, health-care, logistics, manufacturing technologies and much more in a single house which will all be tied in with the Hitachi logo stamped onto it. The onflow of these market sectors will ensure that the compute platform such as Hitachi UCP will be cemented to support these.

          My diet may shift to a reduced lunch but breakfast and dinner will be much more …. interesting. 🙂

          You may want to check out https://community.hds.com/community/innovation-center

          Some sneak previews are there or will be published soon.


  • Massimo Re Ferre’

    I agree with your analysis.

    With all respect due, there is nothing visionary here, it’s pretty much common sense.

    Innovate, monetize, lather rinse and repeat. Or die.

    What’s new?

    • evlonden

      Hello Massimo,

      Thanks for agreeing. I do however tend to disagree on your second statement though. Innovation comes from vision. You see opportunities in new markets or have the ability to create something much better than something that is already out there. Henry Ford did that with cars, Steve Jobs with phones, Bill Gates with DOS (the latter based on new markets, not an improvement in quality of products. :-))

      Again thank you for your comment.


      • Massimo Re Ferre’

        I was referring to the vision required to underline this pattern, which is common sense.

        Obviously the vendor will need to have a vision to keep innovating.