VMware Strikes Back
The tech industry has been all abuzz lately about the competitive hullabaloo surrounding the new hypervisor technologies that are emerging to take on VMware's dominant hypervisor product. Microsoft launched Hyper-V with a party last week to upstage VMware's VMworld event this week. Red Hat purchased Qumranet to solidify its control of the KVM hypervisor technology. Now, VMware is striking back at the legacy OS vendors by labeling their new product category the Virtual Datacenter Operating System – a direct attack on the entrenched category of the general purpose operating system. The cold war of spies and covert operations to grab mindshare while outwardly promoting a message of peaceful co-existence has officially escalated to a hot war for the future architecture of the datacenter.
I, for one, am happy to see this rise in hostilities because I believe it will carry the industry to a much better place – and customers will be the primary beneficiary of the new approach. In the legacy datacenter, a general purpose operating system attempts to serve both the hardware infrastructure with device drivers while also serving the applications with system services. This approach has the disadvantage of artificially coupling applications to physical servers. Any attempt to move the application to another physical server typically requires that the configuration and validation process begin anew because it is extremely unlikely that the new server is absolutely identical to the previous one. This lack of flexibility leads to extreme overspending on capital equipment because an application with a period of low demand cannot relinquish its hardware resources to an application experiencing high demand. The hardware resources become application specific, and each application owner must size hardware capacity to meet peak demand. Server utilization in the datacenter averages 15 – 20%, and the general purpose OS is the culprit.
VMware has now declared that they offer an alternative approach to the general purpose operating system. The technology is not new, but marketing it under the category of an operating system is a very different tactic in this war for the datacenter. The conflict is now overt instead of covert, and this change was inevitable as VMware attempts to expand its footprint beyond its bread and butter business of Windows server consolidation and test lab operations. The new objective is the elastic datacenter and ultimately cloud computing.
The datacenter becomes elastic when applications are released by developers as coordinated sets of virtual machines (or virtual appliances in the case of a vendor release), each with Just Enough Operating System (JeOS or “juice”) attached to provide the system services required by the application. These applications can expand or contract on-demand because there is no onerous configuration process to ready the general purpose OS for a specific application. Instead, the hypervisor accepts the virtual machine and allocates it resources as specified by the OVF meta-data that is included with the image. Applications are up and running in a matter of seconds, and the process is totally repeatable to assure stability, security, and compliance as workloads scale, de-scale, and re-scale to meet the ever changing demand profiles of the enterprise application portfolio. Infrastructure can become a variable cost via this architecture because the scaling cycle can include hardware resources provided by third parties via a hypervisor layer – aka cloud computing as popularized by Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) via the Xen hypervisor.
The reason I label this new competitive tact by VMware as “warfare” is because the concept of a hypervisor as the infrastructure management layer with JeOS as the system services layer for the applications delivered as virtual machines destroys the value of the general purpose OS. If a hypervisor provides access to the infrastructure via device drivers, and applications receive system services from JeOS, and the flexibility of the datacenter improves, and the management of applications is simplified, and I can embrace cloud computing for variable cost infrastructure, why would I ever again buy a general purpose operating system? I won't. And customers won't either.
Unleash the dogs of war. Let's get to it so that we can all live happily ever after on the other side of history.