Introducing VMware Tanzu Community Edition: Simple, Turnkey Access to the Kubernetes and Cloud Native Ecosystem

October 5, 2021 Craig McLuckie

Open source is the foundation on which Tanzu stands, and we take inspiration not only from the engineering community, but also from the end-user community that has taken an upstream-first approach to deploy cloud native technologies in production. As with many things Kubernetes-centric, it is still quite challenging to operationalize a pure, clean, open source–only, upstream-aligned platform for enterprise use. We are looking to change that with VMware Tanzu Community Edition.

Tanzu Community Edition, announced yesterday, showcases our opinion on how the open source parts of the cloud native ecosystem come together to produce something that is immediately accessible and useful. It is an invitation to work with us to shape not only the future of our Tanzu product line, but the many open source initiatives that we are stewards of and participate in. It is also a commitment to openness and engagement with the end users who make open source communities great. It is about looking beyond boundaries and really focusing on accessibility. This is not just about shaping the future of our Kubernetes contributions. It is about the future of Spring, Harbor, Contour, Sonobuoy, RabbitMQ, Cartographer, Carvel, and the myriad other technologies that we are working hard to bring together into a coherent platform. From the starting point of making Kubernetes more accessible (our first release), we have big plans to bring rich developer focused experiences to Tanzu Community Edition.

Tanzu Community Edition is built on some core beliefs... 

Kubernetes should be boring 

Things have come a very long way since the earliest days of the Kubernetes project where the folks that I think of as the great community pioneers were instrumental in shaping the first production use of Kubernetes. One thing that hasn’t really changed since those early days is that Kubernetes can be a bit of a handful to maintain if you are not consuming a managed service (and frankly, it can be a bit of a handful even then). Our team at VMware has worked diligently with the open source community to standardize on a mechanism for deploying and updating Kubernetes using the same systems that Kubernetes uses to do pretty much everything—controller/reconciler patterns. We have been thrilled to see incredible community engagement with the Cluster API project, and it is quickly being adopted by vendors to simplify the deployment of Kubernetes in any environment. Tanzu Community Edition takes the amazing work of the Kubernetes community in building a simple, well-documented, and accessible model for deploying and updating clusters through reconcilers. Whether you are looking to deploy a test cluster on a local desktop for development, or set up dozens of clusters across multiple environments (from on-premises to cloud), we have you covered. Upgrading is easy; just change a version string and signal your intent to upgrade to the appropriate controller. 

Choice is good; lock-in is … not good

Competition makes us individually better, but collaboration makes the world better. We built Tanzu Community Edition in this spirit. We are being entirely up-front that Tanzu Community Edition represents the leading edge of our commercial product line. It is trivial to transition from Tanzu Community Edition to our commercial products for individuals who require commercial support, or want to access our exciting SaaS control plane for cloud native workloads (Tanzu Mission Control). But it is also important to us that our customers can go the other way if they need to. We are here to win our customers’ support, not lock them in artificially. By staying as true as possible to the upstream projects, and by working with the community to shape upstream Kubernetes constructively on behalf of our customers, everyone benefits. Our customers benefit because they retain choice over time. They retain the flexibility to use other solutions that stay true to the Kubernetes conformance standards. It is up to us at VMware to continue to win their business day after day by innovating on their behalf. The community wins because the work that we do pays dividends and improves the experience everywhere. We benefit because, by staying upstream-aligned, our commercial products are lifted up by all the incredible work the community is doing. It is a lot easier to drive the production operationalization of Kubernetes in a hyperscaler environment if the hyperscaler is working with you through the lens of open source community collaboration. This defines Tanzu in a great many ways.

Packaging matters

We believe that Kubernetes resources, as first-class entities, are critical to successful production use. Many organizations struggle with the tension that exists between traditional Linux package management sensibilities and Kubernetes alternatives that bring a powerful but perhaps less deterministic philosophy to package management. We like the idea of simplicity, atomicity, and idempotency as it relates to packaging systems. In many ways this is pretty much what made Docker images successful in the first place; it created a very simple and repeatable artifact for production deployment. There is a middle ground that brings the power of a relatively traditional Linux-style packaging system to the Kubernetes universe. Carvel is a simple suite of single-purpose tools to support reliable, composable, single-purpose capabilities for the deployment of resources. Tanzu Community Edition embraces this idea and offers up a rich set of curated packages that can be dropped into any OCI registry, and consumed effortlessly from command line or automation tooling. We will continually increase the richness of the packages that we offer up through Tanzu Community Edition, and given that we are the people behind the Bitnami catalog, there is a lot of raw material to work with. Our plan is to make sure that everything in the Tanzu portfolio can be consumed as a package (or series of packages in the case of our more complex offerings). Adding a critical operating capability or developer capability to 1, 10 or 100 clusters should be effortless and deterministic.

It is a multicluster world. Own your destiny

Every Kubernetes journey starts with one engineer provisioning one cluster, but sooner or later you will find yourself needing to manage lots of clusters in lots of places if you are doing it right. A small, dedicated team should be able to manage thousands of clusters across multiple infrastructure destinations. The road from one to many clusters will be driven by organizational need and will happen at different times, but it is inevitable. Multi-cloud is real. Edge is real. Data sovereignty laws are real. Regulations are real. Deep extensibility of Kubernetes is real and requires cluster isolation. And all these real-world needs drive complexity. We believe that there is and will always be a good reason to use managed Kubernetes services, but we also believe that there is a lot to be said for being able to control your own destiny from an operations and consumption experience perspective in a lot of different environments. Tanzu Community Edition brings the capability to deploy, operate, and sustain a Kubernetes program that goes everywhere the Kubernetes community goes. It is built on the fundamental assumption that you will need to manage lots of clusters in lots of places, but it doesn’t assume that you are starting there. And if you need a little more help, our Tanzu commercial products are there for you. But we expect a lot of organizations will get tremendous value from Tanzu Community Edition and never have a commercial relationship with us.

Kubernetes can be cool, but developers should be able to pick just how much coolness they want to deal with

Ultimately, where we are going with Tanzu Community Edition isn’t just about Kubernetes. Tanzu embraces a “highest abstraction first, lower abstractions accessible” mindset. Some developers are going to want to get into all the details of the system and fully exploit the power and extensibility of Kubernetes. Some talented souls will be building custom resource definitions for their own applications from the ground up and programming directly to Kubernetes, treating it as a “distributed systems operating system.” But for a lot of folks the magic isn’t in the elegance of the systems so much as what hard business problem they are solving. Through our continued work with open source efforts like the recently announced Cartographer project (that underpins the Tanzu Application Platform), we aim to provide the right abstractions that boost productivity while not getting in the way of solving more complex problems. Tanzu Community Edition is our way of offering a simple, operationalized expression of our community-focused projects to everyone. 

I am truly thrilled and excited by the work the team is doing with Tanzu Community Edition. It represents a new and exciting way to work with a community that is motivated by the same things we are motivated by. I invite you to check it out and kick the tires. We would love to hear from you based on your experiences.

Check out our project site to get going. Check out our GitHub site to get engaged. Let us know what you think.


About the Author

Craig McLuckie is VP of research and development at VMware, working in the Cloud Native Applications business unit. Previously, he was co-founder of the Kubernetes project, and founder and CEO of Heptio.

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