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Virtualization weakens OS importance

Quoting eChannel Line

OS importance slips

Systems software, which comprises the operating system (OS) and utility programs that manage computer resources at a low level, has traditionally served as the layer that sits between hardware and software applications.

One of the most significant developments in 2006 in systems software has been the shift toward looking not only to the OS as a means of managing the layer between hardware and software apps, but also to virtualization as an additional layer between the hardware and OS that can provide greater flexibility to match resources with workloads.

Tony Iams, senior analyst with research firm Ideas International Inc., said virtualization "weakens the importance of OSs for managing hardware," which is a major development because "you can potentially get greater flexibility for managing workloads. In a way, that makes the OS no longer quite as important."

With virtualization, a customer can run multiple OSs on a server at the same time. If multiple instances of the same OS are squeezed in, "you get better value for your hardware" Iams said.

At the same time, virtualization allows for greater flexibility and the ability to "mix and match" different versions of OSs according to customer needs. "If you have an older operating system for which you can't buy hardware anymore, you can run it inside a virtual machine and keep it running," Iams said.

Virtualization was one of three technical areas of focus for Microsoft Corp. and Novell's Inc.'s collaborative alliance around Windows-Linux interoperability and support, announced in November. One of the key benefits of virtualization is the ability to run multiple kinds of OSs on the same server. However, that's only half the battle for the customer, said Iams.

"Supporting that contraption becomes the critical issue."

In the past, there was no relationship between Microsoft and Linux suppliers, meaning support for mixed virtualized environments was difficult to pull off. However, with agreements such as the one between Microsoft and Novell, "now we are starting to see programs in place that could conceivably provide first class support for users to run both OSs," Iams said.

Hilary Wittmann, product manager for Windows Server at Microsoft Canada, said customers have mentioned interoperability as a key requirement as they virtualize their environments for server consolidation, hardware abstraction, disaster recovery, or for test and development purposes. Microsoft Virtual Server currently supports both Windows and Linux guest machines, and in the future, Windows Virtualization -- a part of Longhorn Server -- will do the same, she said.

The Microsoft-Novell agreement "will help us to further enhance the interoperability between Microsoft and Novell virtualization technologies and better meet customer needs," said Wittmann.

Virtual machines on the rise

Dramatic changes to the nature of both applications and hardware are also affecting the way OSs are being designed and packaged, Iams said.

The last 20 to 30 years of innovation in the computer industry have been driven by Moore's law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every 18 months. Although raw processing power is still important, "a more critical issue for users today is I/O," or the input-output operation of a computer.

The dramatic increase in storage capacity is also becoming a huge customer concern, said Iams. "The growth of disks is outpacing Moore's Law. The hard drives you can buy are twice the size of what you looked at three to six months ago. Storage capacity is growing like crazy and broadband is taking over."

Whereas traditionally the OS has been optimized for processor growth, it may now have to be designed in response to I/O, storage capacity and multi-core, multi-threaded processor developments, Iams said.

The traditional approach of buying an application at a store and installing it on a computer is also changing, due to the continued growth and penetration of the Web, said Iams. "That is causing some rethinking of how some applications should be redesigned," Iams said. When virtualization is brought into the equation, "that raises the question of what role the OS will play in the future of the application."

Companies such as VMWare have been promoting the idea of the virtual appliance, where "the traditional OS that we know no one loves basically goes away and becomes part of the application itself. The application and OS code are combined and wrapped up in a virtual machine and shipped," with the virtual machine becoming the "delivery package" for the application.

Read the original, here.

Published Wednesday, January 17, 2007 6:35 PM by David Marshall
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