Bring Distinctive Competence to the Surface

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2006-04-03 Print this article Print

Opinion: Eclipse and Xen accelerate the trend toward commodity cores enabling expert enhancement.

The transformation thats taken place in the market for development environments is also gaining momentum in operating environments. In much the same way that Borland elected earlier this year to move its distinctive life-cycle strengths to the playing field defined by Eclipse, virtualization technology provider Virtual Iron announces this week its Version 3 platform with the open-source Xen hypervisor at its core -- and Microsoft is making sure that it doesnt become perceived as the high-priced alternative, making a parallel announcement that Microsofts own virtualization technology will likewise now be free.

I spoke late last week with Virtual Iron chief technology officer and founder Alex Vasilevsky, who emphasized the companys offering of "native virtualization" -- which he called "a very different concept" from the virtualization options that have previously been available. "Around the Xen base, we take advantage of new hardware from Intel and AMD to virtualize offending instructions with hardware assist: we completely support unmodified operating systems. The user does not need to roll out new operating systems to take advantage of virtualization, they can retain their existing stack and the investments there. Its very simple to maintain and manage this," Vasilevsky said.

For developers, the key message here is that applications need not be optimized around the need to live with a one-size-fits-all server environment, nor do they need to justify the cost of a dedicated server setup that runs a critical but low-duty-cycle task. Nor do applications need to be ported to untested and possibly immature or quirky platforms as the price of enjoying virtualizations benefits. The cost of virtualization in the data center will also likely fall, facilitating more aggressive testing of applications in more varied, more complex and more realistic conditions.

When security issues raise questions about the possible tainting of a server installation, regenerating a clean and fully patched setup will become a much less daunting task -- and remember, as far as some types of attack are concerned, we really dont care whether the number of attacks goes to zero or the cost of recovery from the attack goes to zero: either makes the cost go away.

Attackers will always be with us, but virtualization can reduce them in some respects to a trivial problem -- letting us focus on the vulnerabilities, such as database exposure, that do require effective solutions.

In the meantime, said Virtual Irons Vasilevsky, theres more to virtualization than mere partitioning and CPU sharing. "We can offer disaster recovery by virtualizing, not just the servers, but also the disks and the networks. You can migrate around the world with full functionality." If potential buyers dont ask about the bigger picture around CPU virtualization, they wont get answers -- and that would be a real, not just virtual, shame.

Ill share further comments by Vasilevsky and by Virtual Irons chief marketing officer, Mike Grandinetti, in this weeks InfraSpectrum podcast on April 6.

Tell me how youre using virtualization now, or how your interest is affected by the maturing of its technology and its marketplace, at

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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