VMware's Photon torpedoes the competition

VMware introduces Project Photon: a lightweight Linux operating system for cloud-native apps. Star Trek and Einstein references aside, VMware's Project Photon appears to be more than a particle or a wave.

VMware created the Photon Linux distribution to act as a new container host operating system (OS) for popular containers such as Docker, rkt, and Garden. VMware developed this new lightweight Linux distribution to enable companies to run what it calls "cloud-native" applications (apps), which are containerized applications. As VMware puts it, "...they're designed for the mobile cloud era".

VMware produced a short Photon installation video and installed a Dockerized NGINX into it as an introductory look at the new OS. And check out this video of Project Photon running Docker and Rocket containers via Vagrant and VMware Fusion.

From VMware's website:

Project Photon will enable enterprises to run both containers and virtual machines natively on a single platform, and deliver container isolation when containers run within virtual machines. Future enhancements to this project will enable seamless portability of containerized applications from a developer's desktop to dev/test environments.

The Photon distribution is a Red Hat-based distro that's delivered in a minimal footprint (~300MB). The Photon ISO itself is currently 991MB in size. The reason for the discrepancy is that you have a choice of installation footprints for Photon: Micro, Minimal, Full, and Custom.

Micro: A very stripped-down version that's also very secure and is strictly for running a single containerized application.

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Minimal: This is the container operating system. It has a lot of features for working with containers and is probably the most popular version for running containerized applications.

Full: This is the full Photon installation used mainly for authoring containerized applications and system configuration. You would only need one of these in your development environment. This version is not meant as a runtime environment for containers.

Custom: This option gives you full flexibility in creating a custom runtime environment for your containers.

VMware has open-sourced Photon to encourage contributions from its community. You can download the Photon ISO from its Bintray site.

At this point, you might be asking, "So what's the point of Photon?" That's a valid question. You can run Docker or other container software on any Linux host, so why is the Photon Project newsworthy? The reason is that Photon supports Docker, rkt, and Garden upon installation. You don't have to do anything. It's ready to go to work as soon as it's up and running. As you can see in the video, the presenter explains Photon, installs it, sets up an NGINX Docker container in under eight minutes. Impressive.

There were no extra packages to install, no dependencies to resolve, nothing to compile, and no animals were harmed in the process.

I'll hand it to VMware; it has created an extremely useful tool in Photon. Photon might be my new favorite thing and my new favorite method of quickly deploying applications. I think beyond the marketing term "cloud-native" that VMware is onto something here. For one, Photon is a great way to build application demos, kiosks, and portable applications. This is the exact solution I've been looking for, for years. I attempted to create this myself at one point with my own custom distro that I named Hessix. It was a very lightweight distro (~300MB) that I custom built to be a basic "boot to a Windows Terminal Server" desktop*.

I later modified it to be a portable LAMP server, but Photon takes it a step further in that it is customizable on-the-fly. I like that. Unfortunately a lot of the tools that exist today didn't exist in 2001 when I built my solution.

I'm excited to see that VMware is still innovating internally as opposed to just buying up companies and absorbing innovations. Photon proves to me that VMware still "has it".

*This exercise was also the topic of my very first published article (Linux as a Windows Terminal Server Client) in the November 2002 issue of Sys Admin magazine. Long live Sys Admin!

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