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The future of virtualization

Quoting Government Computer News

When most people think of server virtualization, they think of one operating system running within a window on top of a second OS. Perhaps you want to keep some old application chugging along, but it can only work with Microsoft Windows NT. You don’t want to run a stand-alone NT server, so you’d run a virtual instance of NT on top of Microsoft Server 2003, using virtualization software from VMware Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., or some other company.

More advanced enterprise usage of virtualization software may involve on-the-fly bare-metal installations, where multiple instances of an OS, along with related applications, are downloaded to computers that have no operating systems at all.

Turns out, such approaches may be the might be yesterday’s way of thinking about virtualization. Developers are looking at ways of expanding the whole concept of the technology beyond its current limitations.

Take VMware for instance. Last week, the company announced the winner of its Ultimate Virtual Appliance Challenge.

This contest challenged developers to look at using virtualization as a way to ease software deployment. In this approach, a software package would come to the user bundled with an OS. In VMware’s perspective, this approach would allow software developers to pick a single—and the best—OS for their applications, minimizing installation headaches.

VMware launched the challenge last February and announced the winners last week. Some of the entries included a network debugging console, a database caching mechanism, an encryption server and network attached appliance file server. The company posted hundreds of the entries, including the winning ones on its site. Users can down these applications and run them on VMware Player or VMware Server, both available as free downloads.

VMware is not the only on thinking outside the virtualized box, evidently. The open source Xen community is also hammering away at extending virtualization as well. At the LinuxWorld conference in Boston last spring, we got the chance to talk virtualization with Brian Stevens, the chief technical officer for Red Hat Inc., a big supporter of Xen.

“We’re trying to change the usage model,” Stevens said. “Today what happens if you want to do a virtualization is that you buy a multiple number of products and put them all together. You buy VMware, you install it, you buy an OS and install that. You spend some time making sure all that works together. So we’re trying to think of virtualization as more of an integrated solution.”

In the near-term, Stevens foresees rolling virtualization capabilities into the OS itself so that you can “have a virtualization-aware operating system.” By doing this, developers can then build performance tools to gauge how well the virtualized environments are performing, how many resources they are taking up, and so on. You can do some analysis today, but the virtualized instances still operate as a bit of a black box, both to the host and the guest OS.

Beyond that, Xen developers are also playing with the radical idea of getting rid of the guest OS altogether. Why fire up an entire OS when you only need a few of its features? Taking the place of the guest OS could be an abstract virtual container tweaked for a particular environment.

“We realize there will be have different ways of carving up systems with different properties,” he said.

Xen would provide a set of application programming interfaces, which would allow developers to build containers for their specific applications. “They could specify what type of container they want: A lightweight machine, a full virtual machine, or an emulated environment,” Stevens said.

Read and comment on the original, here.

 

Published Wednesday, August 23, 2006 6:45 AM by David Marshall
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