Sunday, December 03, 2006

Your Application is Your Avatar

Given that “higher system utilization” is the most commonly cited server virtualization benefit, does anyone other than me find it funny that none of the benefit language surrounding Second Life relates to “utilization.” Why is it that we do not hear about the unleashing of formerly idle cycles when one enters the virtual world of Second Life? Why is no one talking about the greater level of productivity achieved when they are able to lead several parallel lives in the virtual world? Is it simply that the business value of computer servers is far removed from the fantasy value of avatars? Or is there something that the server virtualization industry can learn from the popularity of Second Life that will inspire a higher bar for value than the pragmatic, but boring, benefit of “utilization?”

In a recent interview with Zdnet’s Dan Farber, Mendel Rosenblum, chief scientist and founder of VMware, hypothesized the following:

“The biggest misconception [about server virtualization value] is server consolidation [i.e. higher system utilization]. It was the first big application in the enterprise. Part of the problem with being the first successful application is that it misses a lot of the benefits. A virtualization layer is a different way of thinking about hardware, and server consolidation is just one tiny sliver of it.”

I believe Mendel is correct, and I believe we can take a lesson from Second Life to provoke new thinking about what we ought to be attempting to achieve with server virtualization.

In my opinion, the popularity of Second Life stems from the freedom and creativity that is possible when the collective constraints of physical and social boundaries are left at the threshold of the virtual world. Second Life residents are only constrained by their ability to project their imagination into their avatar and their environment, and their ability to represent that projection to others in the virtual world. If freedom and creativity are the dual engines powering Second Life’s popularity, when will these benefits begin to be realized through server virtualization?

The reason that freedom and creativity are not yet the force behind server virtualization is because developers are currently dragging all of the baggage of the legacy world into their virtual machines. How popular would Second Life be if the first step in building an avatar was to do a full and exact body, social, and intellect scan of the player in order to project that exact image into the avatar? And all of the rules and environment of the game were exactly the same as the rules and environment of the physical world? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Second Life would be a colossal flop if these were the ground rules. It’s time that developers took charge of their applications in the virtual world and leave the constraints of the legacy server world at the threshold of the virtual environment.

The first step is to get rid of the bloated, general purpose operating system. If you are a developer, your application is your avatar. Its characteristics are unique to the purpose you are attempting to serve with its existence. Its libraries, system functions, and resources should be uniquely crafted to fulfill its mission, without regard for the libraries and functions used by the avatar next door. In the virtual world, your avatar can live side by side with vastly different avatars with never a worry about a server crash associated with conflicts over shared resources.

So why are you using all of the stale stuff provided in a general purpose operating system instead of branching out to create the perfect avatar? It’s akin to getting the girl of your dreams to say “yes” for an outing, and then wearing clothes from your dad’s ‘70s wardrobe, splashing on his Old Spice aftershave, driving his 1974 Buick Electra 225, and using all of his corny lines as your rap. Why would you do that? You wouldn’t do that, yet you accept the technical equivalent of this dismal scenario with the way you are building your virtual appliance – your avatar.

Don’t settle for that weak rap. Virtualization gives you the freedom to express your application creativity. Arm your avatar with the good stuff, and forget about what the general purpose OS neanderthals say you should use. Clip-on ties, Old Spice, and Buick just won’t get it done in the virtual world of tomorrow.


At 1:23 PM, Blogger antosha said...

Ehh. I'm not buying it.

Here's the two things to bear in mind about putting your app into a virtualized context:

1) It would probably actually require extra time and effort to strip an OS down to just the elements that your app needs-- and if stuff works, a developer's time is worth far more than a slimmer app profile. (This may be less true on Linux than on Windows, but still, as a developer I would rather focus on building my app than on shrinking its footprint. Virtual hardware is cheap.)

2) Chances are, I'm not developing an app purely to run in a virtual machine context-- I'd want the option of running on a real hardware/OS as well, at least for the next several years. So I think there'd have to be a lot of value added by tuning things, if I were to go to a lot of trouble to tailor an app to run in exactly one environment, configured exactly one way.

So I can't see why people would bother stripping down the underlying OS to the perfect set of stuff for only their app, unless they were planning on deploying a lot of instances of the virtual appliance so there could be some cumulative savings.

And I don't really see this as much like creating a "cool" second life avatar-type thing either-- I think people just want to get work done.

There is however an interesting whiff of an idea here-- I'm reminded of the idea of intelligent software agents (anyone remember General Magic?) that would represent you in "the cloud" and run around performing e-commerce transactions on your behalf... A VM that was a kind of consumer of other services on your behalf might be worth personalizing in some sense. But a general VM-based application... no, I don't see it.


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