VMwares Greene: OS-Based Virtualization Reduces Freedom of Choice

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-04-03

VMwares Greene: OS-Based Virtualization Reduces Freedom of Choice

For almost nine years, VMware was, for the most part, the only real player in the field of x86 virtualization technology. Over the past couple of years, that has changed, as enterprises have realized the benefits of virtualization and more players have entered the arena. The technology will be a key topic of conversation at this weeks LinuxWorld show in Boston. VMware President Diane Greene spoke with eWEEK Senior Editor Jeffrey Burt about the virtualization space, new competitors and VMwares role in the open source community.

How would you describe VMwares relationship with the open-source community?

It goes way back. Weve always worked quite well with the open-source community. In fact, when we first launched our workstation in 1999, it was Workstation for Linux, and weve donated code along the way and we cooperate very closely with the Linux community and make sure we support Linux extremely well and in a timely way. We also are working with them around a transparent way to do paravirtualization, offering some of what weve developed as a starting point and offering our APIs and so forth.

People in the open-source community have said that VMware, in the wake of Xen and other open-source virtualization projects, has become more approachable to the community, more friendly with it. Can you comment on that?

Thats surprising for me to hear because weve always … tried to work as well as possible with the open-source community. Weve donated a tremendous amount of our software to open-source projects. … Our support and our efforts with the Linux vendors date back to the very beginning. I remember when Red Hat launched something in 1999 a partner program, we were one of the first people to sign up for that.

But I think maybe what theyre seeing is that the open-source community has gotten a lot more interested in virtualization and were there to work with them and embrace that, so theres a lot more points of contact and cooperation because theyve ramped up their own interest in virtualization.

At LinuxWorld, VMware is going to be releasing a significant amount of technology to the open-source community. Can you talk about what youll be doing and why?

We already have put out there with the Linux community a virtual machine interface, which is a starting point for where you can have transparent paravirtualization. So thats a way to run an operating system in a virtual machine have that exact same binary, that exact same operating system, able to run on native hardware with no changes. And its way to improve the performance of how that operating system runs in a virtualized environment. So were putting that out there.

Were offering everything we do as standards. Weve had an SDK [software developer kit] out there, and we make those APIs available to people openly and give people access to that, too, with our SDK 2.0. That gets to how people can manage and manipulate their virtual machines.

We strongly believe that, if there are widely used standard ways to manipulate virtual machines, run operating systems in virtual machines and so forth, its going to be very good for the customers and for a bigger ecosystem around virtualization and adoption of virtualization. Thats good for all of us, and of course, thats good for VMware.

For an industry to grow, you want everybody working together.

Next Page: Xen on the radar.

Xen on the Radar

Going back to Xen, with version 3.0, it seems to have really made its way onto the radar. You have Red Hat and Novell talking about integrating Xen onto their operating systems. Youve been outspoken about that idea. Can you give us your thoughts?

What you do when you tie the two things together is, you end up creating a fairly complex interface, where youre bringing everything together, and then you tend to sacrifice your ability to run any operating system as a first-class citizen. This is just huge value for people, to have that freedom of choice. When a customer goes to deploy a service [or] an application, theyre focused on the application. Theyre not focused on the operating system. So when they go to deploy that application, they just want to get the optimal software stack to run that application.

For instance, if its a secure application, they want to grab the minimal, most secure OS that will support the application to maximize their security. People want to have the perfect operating system for whatever application it is that theyre going to run. Once you tie the virtualization [technology] to the OS, it could be at a very high cost in terms of providing that freedom of choice.

One way to look at it is if you think about appliances, or even software as a service, a customer using a firewall appliance or salesforce.com [appliance], if you ask them what operating system theyre running, they might not really care. They shouldnt care. Were seeing that not in virtual appliances, where you take a virtual machine and you put the software stack in it—the application and the operating system—and all of a sudden, its the concern of the application what operating system its using, and of no concern to the customer, just as in a hardware appliance.

Weve seen tremendous traction where weve had hundreds of thousands of people using VMware appliances. Oracles distributed over 100,000 copies of 10g, and IBM and BEA distributing virtual machine appliances with their software stack.

We have a browser appliance that weve over 200,000 downloads of on our Web site. People are seeing the value of these appliances as a way of distributing and managing and updating their software, and all youre really concerned about is what the appliance does.

What of the arguments that tying the virtualization technology to the operating system increases the efficiency of the hardware, or reduces the complexity of the virtual environment?

In terms of reducing the complexity, I dont buy that. I think potentially theres a small, incremental hardware utilization thing you could get, but paravirtualization addresses that. So VMware is working with the open source community around that, and weve also announced that were supporting paravirtualization as well.

When you talk about reducing complexity, the underlying assumption there is that youre only running one operating system. But in this world, people run a lot of operating systems. … Then you have specialty operating systems, like secure operating systems and so forth, so once you have this multi-OS environment, you want to make sure you can run all those OSes as first-class citizens, and you want to have a common infrastructure and management for that.

Thats one reason were being so aggressive about pushing out a single way to manage virtual machines and sharing that with the world.

In a multi-OS world, I dont think it reduces complexity at all, I think it adds to the complexity to build it into one operating system, and it also greatly endangers this highly valuable freedom of choice.

Weve surveyed our customers, and over 40 percent of them are running mixed operating system environments today inside the VMware virtual infrastructure, and thats a growing number.

This is something that wasnt possible before virtualization. And here now you have multi-OS environments on single systems in over 40 percent of our virtual infrastructure customers, and growing significantly every quarter.

Next Page: The rise of open source.

The Rise of Open


How has the rise of open-source virtualization changed the way VMware operates? There is the belief, for example, that VMware Player and VMware Server—those free products youve rolled out—are in response to Xen and the fact that its free.

I would disagree with that. What VMware is about is growing adoption of virtualization, and Im quite proud of the fact that our virtual infrastructure offering is so functional, so robust, so complete a virtual infrastructure that we can take a basic partitioning product like VMware Player and VMware Server—which is better than anything else thats out there from other people—and give it a way. Its also a tribute to the business model of software, where you have a low cost-to-manufacture that its not necessarily possible in other industries.

So its a combination of the fact that we have managed to move forward so rapidly as a company in terms of the depth and breadth of our offerings that we can turn around and these sort of starting-point virtualization products away. Its also made possible by the fact that its software.

So for us, its about letting people try virtualization. We have an amazing high conversion rate of people who demo our virtual infrastructure, and then turn around and buy it.

We know that the virtual infrastructure is just so darn valuable to our customers that if more people try it and adopt it, it will be good for us and it also will be great for the whole ecosystem thats growing up around virtualization.

How has the response been?

Its just been huge, in the millions of downloads of these products. And a huge percentage of the people downloading them were never VMware customers before. So its a whole new segment … of the population thats trying out virtualization, and liking it and using it.

What does that tell you about the status of virtualization in the market?

Theres a really strong awareness of virtualization in the industry today, and people also trust it, they know it works, they know its going to give them huge value. But I think were in the early stages of massive adoption, and its clear to me that everyones going to run in virtualized environments. So now were at the point where everyones looking at it, "OK, Im going to use this. Im going to try it and figure out how to deploy it."

What needs to be done to continue the momentum?

Just continuing to expand, leveraging the virtualization platform. For instance, were coming out with a lot of system-level functionality, like dynamic distributed resource management, consolidated backup, built-in cluster management, automatic failover.

What you can see happening is a whole new way to run your systems thats better and more powerful, but that leverages the virtual infrastructure. As that grows out and everyone fully leverages that, and presents it to the customer in a very easy-to-use way, that will just grow the market that much more.

The really exciting thing weve seen is launching the virtual appliances, which is a huge boon for the customer because they get this preconfigured, ready-to-run software stack that can even be remotely updated and managed, and thats a scenario where youre going to see huge growth. … As these become widespread, the easy ability to share and manage software and to get solutions ready to go, thats going to accelerate the adoption.

Next Page: The future of virtualization.

The Future of Virtualization

What does the future of virtualization look like? For example, it appears that there is a continued commoditization of the hypervisor, with the focus of vendors being on managing and monitoring those environments.

Its true the hypervisor is just a small piece of the overall virtual infrastructure. Well see how quickly that actually gets commoditized, because theres a lot of change going on in the platform world, with multicore and 64-bit and VT [Intel Virtual Technology] and "Pacifica" [Advanced Micro Devices Virtualization Technology] and the need for SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] functionality and the need for testing with all the storage hardware and all the server hardware and all that certification stuff. I wouldnt underestimate whats involved in having a fully state-of-the-art, robust, highly performing hypervisor.

But, if people realize thats just a small piece of everything you can do, where you can add in all the system-level functionality that leverages the basic hypervisor layer, and then also add in system management as well, theres a lot of services you can offer [and] theres infrastructure around the appliances. Its just an incredibly rich universe of functionality that can be built that the customers will derive huge benefits from.

Where in the virtualization arena are standards most needed?

Theres a few areas where we see everybody coming together around a common way to do things that will have high value. One of them is the virtual machine file format. That is where the virtual machine is nothing more than a file, and what the format of that is will have big implications in where people start and stop and manipulate and manage a virtual machine. VMware is offering our format, VMDK. We would actually use another format if people wanted to use another format. We just feel strongly that whatever it is needs to be completely open and license-free.

Microsoft is offering a format, but it has a license associated with it, so we cant adopt something that forces a license.

Theres another interface, which is the virtual machine interface, that the operating system and the virtual machine use to talk to each other—known as the paravirtualization interface. Weve offered a starting point there called VMI—virtual machine interface. Thats an important one because it will allow the operating systems to run well on any virtualization [platform]. Theres the systems management interface. Were a member of DMTF [Distributed Management Task Force].

There we feel you want a set of interfaces that is as rich as anything the customers are doing today with virtual machines, so because weve been in the business for eight years, we have a pretty strongly developed set of interfaces that were offering to the community. If we can all agree on how we manage virtual machines and what those APIs and interfaces are, that will give customers the most freedom of choice, and grow the industry the fastest.

The last area that were working in is how you benchmark virtual machines. Were working with the community on that as well. … Everybody hopes we can all develop some benchmarks that are not expensive to run.

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