New VMware CIO Explains Approach To Containers

PART 1: Bask Iyer leads VMware’s global information and technology organization, managing critical technology systems that support its worldwide business operations

VMware’s senior vice president and CIO, Bask Iyer, had some rather impressive shoes to fill when he joined the world’s largest virtualization software company in March 2015. He came from Juniper Networks to replace the celebrated Tony Scott, who was selected by the Obama administration to be CIO of the United States, no less.

No pressure there. But Iyer—whose first name is short for Baskaran—has an impressive resume of his own and, in fact, is probably even qualified to replace Scott on the national level if and when the opportunity arises. Iyer has more than 25 years of experience in Fortune 100 manufacturing companies and Silicon Valley-based high-tech firms, including CIO stints at Juniper, Honeywell International and GlaxoSmithKline Beecham, where he was also the company’s e-commerce leader.

Now Iyer (pictured) leads VMware’s global information and technology organization, managing critical technology systems that support the company’s worldwide business operations. He’s also serving as a key front man in VMware’s mission to sell products for the software-defined enterprise.

vmwareIn the last few years, VMware—despite its position as a company that has at least one of its products or services working in virtually every data center in the world—has had to face some new challenges in the marketplace. Hot new technologies, such as container-based IT systems, are trying—and often succeeding—to take market share away from the company’s long-entrenched hypervisor and virtual machines products.

What Containers Bring to the Mix

Software containers automate the deployment of applications by providing an additional layer of abstraction and automation of operating-system-level virtualization on Linux. They are extremely portable, easy to deploy, and enable the configuration and reconfiguration of microservices inside with relative ease.

While it continues to handle the server and desktop virtualization needs of companies the world over, software-defined networking is one of VMware’s main development focuses in 2016. Where container-makers such as Docker, CoreOS, Red Hat and Google Kubernetes may be cutting into VMware’s core business, VMware in turn is expanding and moving into markets long dominated by Cisco Systems, Brocade and Iyer’s previous employer, Juniper Networks.

A company such as VMware—large, highly profitable, with relatively deep pockets and with an extensive ecosystem thanks to owner Dell EMC—can afford to spend some time and capital to do this. eWEEK will publish a subsequent story soon on VMware’s networking plans in 2016.

Thus, Iyer appears to have walked into a great situation with an established company that has always embodied Silicon Valley “cool.”

“I used to be a customer of VMware when I was at Juniper [and] Honeywell, so I bring a customer perspective to the executive staff,” Iyer told eWEEK. “You have to know what is really a trend and what is fundamentally changing. Every data center has VMware in it. VMware has credibility in the market. Check out VMworld to see the customer loyalty we have; people line up at 4 a.m. to get in.”

In Reality, Lots of Mixture in Data Centers

As far as Docker being a competitor to VMware’s world of multiple millions of installed virtual machines, Iyer says that, in the real world, all kinds of technologies are hard at work together in data centers.

CTOs and CIOs get the tools they need, install and deploy, and move on to the next problem to solve; there’s always another issue in the offing.

“A lot of the people who come to VMworld also go to DockerCon,” Iyer said. “I don’t think it’s exclusive [VMware vs. Docker], one or the other. I use Docker myself [in VMware’s internal private cloud]. There’s always a little bit of sensationalism [in the markets], like people saying ‘Docker is going to take over,’ and so on. There are some companies who specialize in that who also let the rumors rise. They get some press.”

Iyer said he uses Docker in his dev shop. “Containers is a good approach. But you still need the containers to be moved within an infrastructure, between clouds, or different data centers, and so on,” Iyer said.

VMware Can ‘Cradle’ Containers Alongside VMs

vmwareVMware unveiled its Project Photon and Project Lightwave products last April, shortly after Iyer joined the team. The open source-based products essentially serve to “cradle” containers running cloud-native apps supplied by Docker and others noted above, in addition to containers made by colleagues such as Pivotal (which, like VMware, is owned by EMC).

That is VMware’s approach to “welcoming” containers into its system to work alongside virtual machines.

This can have its advantages, but it also can get a bit complicated, developers have told eWEEK. But VMware is determined to continue to reach out and promote the mixing and matching of containers within its frameworks. It has the tools to back up its claims.

“There is hardly any product in the market like VMotion (which moves live virtual machines from node to node, cloud to cloud, or cloud to on-premises),” Iyer said. “People using open source often say they miss the tools VMware has to manage these things.

“VMware has done a good job of embracing all these (new) things that have come in, things like what Pivotal does, big data and databases. In open source, it embraces OpenStack (along with lots of other technologies),” he said.

“That’s my perspective—not necessarily as a spokesperson, but as a real user. I’ve gotten a lot of value out of VMware,” Iyer said.

Originally published on eWeek.