Google Distributed Cloud (software only) for VMware overview

Google Distributed Cloud is our solution that extends Google Cloud's infrastructure and services into your data center. We offer Google Distributed Cloud in both connected and air-gapped configurations that run on Google-provided hardware. We also offer Google Distributed Cloud as a software-only product that runs on your own hardware. Google Distributed Cloud software can be installed on either VMware or bare metal. This guide is for Google Distributed Cloud software that runs on your own hardware in a VMware vSphere environment.

Google Distributed Cloud is based on Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), with its own Kubernetes package that extends GKE for use in an on-premises environment. With Google Distributed Cloud you can create, manage, and upgrade GKE clusters on your own premises while using Google Cloud features, and deploy and operate containerized applications on your clusters at scale using Google's infrastructure.

Installing Google Distributed Cloud software entitles you to use GKE Enterprise: an enterprise tier for GKE with powerful features for governing, managing, and operating containerized workloads at scale. You can find out more about GKE Enterprise and the features available on VMware in the GKE Enterprise (Anthos) technical overview

This page provides an overview of how Google Distributed Cloud works on VMware, giving you the background you need before going on to a minimal or production installation.

Supported versions

This documentation covers all supported versions of Google Distributed Cloud. Where relevant, we also retain limited information for older, unsupported versions in this documentation. Version-specific differences in requirements and behavior are noted in the documentation. Similarly, when a new feature becomes available, the supported version for the feature is documented.

For a list of the supported minor versions and available patches, see Versioning.

Starting with the 1.29 release, we no longer create a directory for the previous minor release. Differences in behavior and are noted in the documentation. Similarly, when a new feature becomes available, the supported version for the feature is documented.

You can find the complete documentation for an earlier version by adding the minor version number in the following URL:

Replace VERSION with a minor version from 1.0 to 1.16 and copy the URL to the address bar in your browser.

How it works

Google Distributed Cloud extends GKE to let you create GKE clusters in a vSphere environment on your own premises, and manage them in Google Cloud along with regular GKE clusters and clusters in other environments as part of a fleet.

Because the Google Distributed Cloud software runs in your data center rather than on Google Cloud, it requires you to install some admin and control plane software in addition to the GKE software itself. The software that runs in your data center is downloaded as part of the installation and upgrade processes.

The following diagram shows the simplified result of a completed installation.

Diagram of an admin cluster and a user cluster
Google Distributed Cloud architecture with one user cluster

Key components

The following components make up a software-only installation on VMware of Google Distributed Cloud:

  • A user cluster is where the workloads that implement your applications run, like in GKE on Google Cloud. The nodes that run your workloads are called worker nodes. A user cluster also has one or more control plane nodes. In the preceding diagram, the user cluster has one control plane node.

  • The admin cluster manages one or more user clusters. In the preceding diagram, the admin cluster has three control plane nodes.

  • The admin workstation is a separate machine that includes the tools that cluster creators and developers need to manage their installation:

    • Running gkectl from the admin workstation lets you create and update clusters and perform some other administrative tasks
    • Running kubectl from the admin workstation lets you interact with your admin and user clusters, including deploying and managing workloads
  • The Google Cloud console provides a web interface for your Google Cloud project, including your clusters on VMware. You can perform a subset of administrative tasks, including cluster creation, from the Google Cloud console as an alternative to running commands on the admin workstation.

  • Cluster admins and developers use kubectl and virtual IP addresses (VIPs) to access the control planes in the admin and user clusters. You configure VIPs during cluster creation. Users and developers calling workloads in your user clusters use Service and Ingress VIPs. Each node in the installation also has its own IP address. You can learn more about IP planning for Google Distributed Cloud in Plan your IP addresses.

Connecting to the fleet

All Google Distributed Cloud clusters are members of a fleet: a logical grouping of Kubernetes clusters. Fleets let your organization uplevel management from individual clusters to entire groups of clusters, and can help your teams adopt similar best practices to those used at Google. You can view and manage fleet clusters together in the Google Cloud console, and use fleet-enabled GKE Enterprise features to help you manage, govern, and operate your workloads at scale. You can see a complete list of available fleet features for on-premises environments in GKE Enterprise deployment options.

Each fleet cluster's connection to Google Cloud is managed by a Connect Agent, which is deployed as part of the Google Distributed Cloud installation process. You can learn more about how this agent works in the Connect Agent overview.

Fleet membership is also used to manage Google Distributed Cloud pricing, as described in the next section.

For a deeper discussion of GKE Enterprise features and how they work together, see the GKE Enterprise technical overview.


GKE clusters on-premises created as part of Google Distributed Cloud are billed per vCPU as part of GKE Enterprise. You enable the Enterprise tier by enabling the Anthos API in your Google Cloud project..

For full pricing information, including how to contact sales, see GKE pricing.

Installing Google Distributed Cloud on VMware

Because the Google Distributed Cloud software runs in your own infrastructure, it is highly configurable to meet your particular organizational and use case needs: you can choose from a range of supported load balancing modes, vSphere configurations, IP addressing options, security features, connectivity options, and more. This means that setting up Google Distributed Cloud involves making decisions before and during installation in consultation with your networking, vSphere, and application teams to ensure that your installation meets your needs. This documentation set includes guides to help your team make these decisions.

However, if you just need to see Google Distributed Cloud in action, we also provide a basic installation path for a small test installation where we've made a lot of these choices for you, letting you quickly get a workload up and running.

In each case, the installation process is as follows:

  1. Plan your installation. Minimally this includes ensuring you can meet the resource and vSphere requirements for Google Distributed Cloud, as well as planning your IP addresses.
  2. Set up your on-premises environment to support Google Distributed Cloud, including setting up vSphere inventory objects and your connection to Google.
  3. Set up Google Cloud resources, including the Google Cloud project you will use when setting up and managing Google Distributed Cloud.
  4. Create an admin workstation with the resources and tools you need to create clusters.
  5. Create an admin cluster to create, manage, and update user clusters.
  6. Create user clusters to run your actual workloads.

What's next?

  • To start a minimal proof-of-concept installation, see Set up minimal infrastructure.
  • To review some of the considerations needed to plan a Google Distributed Cloud installation, start a production installation, or both, see the installation overview.