Sunday, June 25, 2006

Virtualize ASAP, Then What?

This week, VMware and Intel announced a program called Virtualize ASAP to help ISVs turn their applications into virtual appliances. The value of virtual appliances is obvious for customers - no installation or configuration hassles. But how can that value be sustained? After all, a virtual appliance, although contained inside a virtual container, still has lots of components (such as an operating system, application server, web server, database, etc) that will invariably suffer from bugs and obsolesence in the face of technological progress. If the customer is supposed to manage lifecycle issues such as operating system support and maintenance associated with the components of the virtual appliance, is the convenience of a simplified installation really much of a bargain?

Virtual appliances will truly become an interesting form factor when application companies shoulder the burden of lifecycle management for all of the components that make the virtual appliance a complete solution. If a virtual appliance only provides the value of a snapshot in time for the system components, it is only really valid for demonstrations and trials. Fortunately, Linux and open source offer application ISVs a perfect OEM license that enables absolute control of the customer experience throughout the application lifecycle.

With Linux and open source, an application company can tailor the components to suit the performance characteristics of its application. Then, as the components evolve, they can be passed along to the customer -- if and when the changes add value for the customer in the context of the application. Because the application company tests and certifies all components before a customer receives them, the customer headaches and hassles of coordinating and testing asychronous maintenance streams disappear.

If ISVs are going to Virtualize ASAP, we can only hope that Intel and VMware are going to provide them with some guidance on how to harness Linux and open source to offer a complete value proposition for the customer.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Is VMTN the next AppExchange?

VMware held its industry analyst day this past week in Boston at the Charles Hotel. I was invited to speak on a panel about virtual appliances, and I was pleasantly suprised by how aggressively VMware is embracing the concept of virtual appliances. Diane Greene and Brian Byun gave a presentation that described virtual appliances as one of three strategic pillars for the company. As part of the panel presentation on virtual appliances, Srinivas Krishnamurti proclaimed that VMware intends to create a marketplace for virtual appliances on VMTN.

It makes perfect sense. When software can be downloaded, installed, and fully operational as easily as buying a new hit tune from iTunes and loading it on the iPod, why not create a market where such software is readily available to the buyers? We are not just talking about simple software like screensavers and games folks. We are talking full blown server side applications, such as an Ingres database, a Zimbra messaging server, or a Digium Asterisk VOIP PBX. All of these companies have publically demonstrated their commitment to providing their software in a software appliance or virtual appliance form factor. Why? Because it makes it drop dead simple for a customer to receive value from their application quickly. The operating system, and all of the headaches associated with it, disappears into the application. The application vendor takes responsibility for integration, test, and maintenance. Sound familiar? Just like the SaaS offerings on AppExchange.

The major difference in this case is that the technology that makes everything work nicely together is not a hosted datacenter infrastructure maintained by someone like Instead, it is the virtualization layer provided by VMware's products. Each application vendor integrates their application with the operating system that is tailored and configured to deliver high performance for their application workload (in nearly every case it is Linux, just like the SaaS offerings all use Linux). Then, they seal it with the VMware virtual machine container. When the customer downloads the virtual appliance, they simply copy it to any server that supports VMware virtual machines (which includes most Linux, Windows, and VMware server OS offerings). For highest performance, it should be deployed on VMware's ESX server, which is optimized to run VMware virtual machines.

Service Oriented Architectures, SaaS, and Virtualization are all the rage now because they give us hope that the innovation chokehold of the standard OS is about to be broken. When applications can work together on the same server quickly and easily without days, weeks, and months of integration and untold days, weeks, and months of care and feeding as part of the maintenance cycle, all of us will get more value from our software application vendors. I hope that VMTN is remarkably successful as a virtual appliance marketplace because that success will reflect the death of the innovation drag created by the "standard OS."