A necessary preamble

I had in mind to write something about Tanzu CE for a while: I felt the itch immediately after its release and even more after having played with it a bit. The initial idea was to write about my testing experience but then I realized that I would have produced another useless how-to post. At the same time, I began thinking “above the keyboard” and I put together a few thoughts and personal considerations about how VMware got to this point and came up with a small dissertation instead! So, please forgive me for the length and mind though that these are just my personal, free thoughts based on what I have understood “from the outside”; I might be completely wrong or inaccurate… any feedback is welcome and I’d be happy to change my mind if it will make sense… so without further ado…

Tanzu is the new vSphere

Without doubts, over the last few of years VMware has been working hard to shake off its reliable, respectable but somehow stale “virtualization company” image within the IT community and it has been successfully broadening its reach in other areas like networking, security, multi-cloud and – wait for it – open-source projects. We have been hearing less and less about vSphere and VSAN and more and more about SD-WAN, Carbon Black Security, alliances with hyperscalers and finally Tanzu. Don’t worry though, vSphere is not really going anywhere: VMware’s foundational virtualization platform is and will still be the building block for most of the solutions offered by VMware for many years to come, on premises or in your public cloud of choice.

Among the many new technological streams VMware is involved in, the one that has gotten the highest level of visibility – almost as if it is about to become the new corporate brand – is Tanzu. Slowly and gently vSphere is being “pushed on the side” leaving the spotlight to Tanzu and indeed there are valid reasons for this to happen: modern applications require to be infrastructure agnostic and portable, therefore limiting the company’s focus to the hypervisor business would not be a wise move in the era of multi-cloud. Kubernetes clearly is the enabler for this application development, delivery and support paradigm shift: Tanzu is VMware’s all-in bet to win the modern apps market, being it tightly wrapped around Kubernetes and credibly embracing its dynamic open-source ecosystem.

Let’s be honest: so far, the marketing messaging around Tanzu has been at least a bit confusing. Tanzu is not just one product (TKG) but it is an entire “opinionated” portfolio of complementary solutions built around VMware’s own Kubernetes compliant distribution and meant to enable organizations walk the entire “modern apps path”, from writing the first lines of code to scaling and dynamically updating applications deployed on-prem or on public clouds. Tanzu is the key to VMware relevance in a post-hypervisor world and in my humble opinion, that all-in bet has strong chances being successful.

But there is a challenge ahead. Winning the Devs.

Tanzu: cool for Ops, but what about Devs?

So far, the entry point for the adoption of Tanzu in the enterprise has been the operations / infrastructure folks: old virtualization dogs like myself have been told early enough to be prepared for the arrival of Kubernetes at our office desks and that new skills and a new attitude were soon to be required. Swim or sink. As a personal note, I remember that back in 2017 when I was attending the VMUG Leaders Summit at the VMware Campus in Palo Alto I sat in a session where we were openly told to start studying Kubernetes ASAP and brace ourselves for the coming revolution… We were even given a copy of the “Kubernetes Up and Running” paperback to bring home with us and help us start the learning journey. The message was clear: I personally followed the advice and I eventually got CKA and CKAD certified… but I am digressing here. The point is that we, the Ops people, have been told well in advance to get ready to support modern apps in our organization: no surprises then when vSphere 7 arrived – bringing Kubernetes along as its sidekick – and disrupted our well-established “VM herders” habits.

While Ops Teams have crossed the chasm and are now steadily climbing the Tanzu adoption curve, what is happening with developers? They certainly were the early adopters of Kubernetes, even before the infrastructure folks, but mostly they were consuming it “their own way”, often bypassing Ops and deploying K8s clusters on public clouds or spinning up “black box” VMs on-prem, running applications totally invisible to Operators.

Obviously, consistency in the adoption of platforms and tooling is essential to truly implement Dev(Sec)Ops practices in any “ modern organization” as it ensures continuity and guarantees the closure of the virtuous “development > deployment > continuous improvement” loop: failure to do so would lead Devs and Ops working separately, each one inside their own bubble, perpetuating the mistakes of traditional enterprise IT. Nobody wants that or better, nobody can afford that anymore.

Tanzu has everything to bring Dev and Ops folks (yeah, and Sec ones too!) together at the same table. The issue at hand here is that Developers always saw VMware as “a Virtual Machine company” with zero appeal nor relation to them, being too busy typing stuff in VS Code and researching new obscure, often short-lived opensource projects competing for a spot on the CNCF Landscape poster. The majority of them do not even know how much VMware is involved in producing open-source code and contributing through the CNCF to many of the very same tools they use (or brag about using) every day!

Why would they then even care about VMware and Tanzu in the first place? Well, they should care because Tanzu would make their life easier, and not just theirs but also that of Ops and Sec people along the pipeline: Devs just don’t happen to know yet, but they could be easily persuaded and won over with the right approach.

So, how to convince then Devs to adopt the Tanzu common ground? Force feeding the whole ecosystem to them as “company policy” would probably not work: if CIOs implemented the full Tanzu stack in their organization without the Devs’ support, that project would most likely fail, so one smart way to make it work would be to have Devs discover Tanzu by themselves and learn to love it.

Enter the Trojan Horse, enter Tanzu CE

VMware announced the availability of Tanzu CE at VMworld 2021 last October: to many, so much emphasis on the launch of a product basically given out for free might have seemed a bit strange. What happened to VMware? Did they become philanthropists all of a sudden? Not really: as I mentioned before, VMware is already a firm believer in the benefits of the open-source development (and business) model. The company already contributes incredible amount of quality code to well (and lesser) known projects in the modern applications area, so it was only a matter of time they fully committed themselves to the community by gifting its members with a CE release of their flagship product. One might maliciously say that this is an answer to its main competitor in this area, Red Hat, but really it is indeed a natural move and everyone familiar with the “profitability” of open-source could see this happen. After all, even Microsoft does it, right?

The idea here is to remove the Tanzu access barrier completely: no need for licenses, no need for infrastructure. Just download it and run it on your laptop with Docker (having everything running as containers is an incredible technological feat), then scale it to vSphere, Azure or AWS when you are ready.

Use cases are multiple: testing, learning and eventually even using it in production if community support is enough for you. To enable you have the best possible experience, the Tanzu CE team – in true community spirit – contributes with plenty of resources to bring you up to speed quickly. Once caught in the loop, don’t forget to give back and contribute with your code and documentation!

One important thing to note is that Tanzu CE is not a limited version of the enterprise solution: their codebase is common and CE is the testbed of features that eventually will make it to the commercial release. Lastly, it comes with a powerful package manager (Carvel) to quickly deploy additional components like Prometheus, Graphana, KNative and so on. Sweet.

Developers should be delighted to be able to pick Tanzu CE as their application platform of choice. They will be able to meet the ops teams on the same ground, using in development the same tools the operations team supports in prod. Consistency, right? Maybe this doesn’t yet fully close the circle as many other moving parts are needed to make it a reality but it really is the beginning of something big: Tanzu Application Platform finally available in Beta, but also Mission Control – perhaps in the free tier Starter Edition – come to my mind as valuable additions to Tanzu CE, but that’s fuel for another post maybe.

My last two cents

From a personal point of view, all of this really makes me happy: being a self-declared VMware fanboy and, at the same time a strong supporter of open-source (I ran my small-town local LUG in the early 2000’s), this means two of my dearest technological interests are becoming one single thing: VMware cool tech, openly available to anyone to use, study, improve. Just wow.

Now, in true open-source spirit, let’s work together to make the Tanzu CE community thrive.

All you need is here: https://tanzucommunityedition.io/

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