Dan's Take

The 'First Application Virtualization Software Company'?

Robin Systems makes a bold claim, but one without support.

The company's press release began with "Robin Systems, the first Application Virtualization software company, …" <cue sound of vehicle coming to screeching halt>.  I was taken aback by the claims of being first when there's an existing market.

I've been involved in the market for virtualization technology for decades, and have observed a healthy market for application virtualization technology. One industry research firm recently forecast that this worldwide market is expected to be $26 billion by 2020.

After I sent a note to this effect to the company's PR representative, I was persuaded to speak with Razi Sharir, Vice President, Products & Marketing for Robin Systems, to get a better understanding of what the company was doing.

What Robin Systems Has to Say
Once we were on the call, Sharir pointed out that his company has developed a way to encapsulate applications in containers and make it possible for these encapsulated applications to be provisioned, moved and replicated easily.

Here's how the company described its technology:

Robin is the first company to bring application virtualization benefits to mission-critical enterprise applications such as databases and Big Data clusters, enabling high-performance workload consolidation with the agility and flexibility previously available only to micro applications. Robin AVP transforms commodity hardware into a compute, storage, and data continuum that enables:

  • Applications to share a server or machine without any loss of performance and predictability. Even the most critical enterprise applications – such as databases and Big Data clusters – can be consolidated without any performance compromise.
  • Transparent application mobility across machines without any data loss. By decoupling compute from storage, Robin not only protects applications from server failures, it also ensures portability and mobility without moving or copying any data. Robin ensures seamless data access for applications no matter where they run.
  • Fast and simple application deployment and lifecycle management. Building upon container agility, Robin ensures that even the most complex distributed applications – including Hadoop such as HortonWorks, Cloudera and MapR, NoSQL databases such as Cassandra, MongoDB and CouchDB, and RDBMS such as Oracle, Postgres and Mysql – can be deployed within a matter of minutes. Quick application clones can be created within seconds, and application-level clone and snapshots allow applications to go back and forth in time for production as well as test and dev purposes.

Interesting, but the use of containers as the encapsulation and delivery mechanism means that this technology doesn't fit into the application virtualization segment. It operates at a different level in the stack, that of processing virtualization.

Defining Application Virtualization
In my book, Virtualization: A Manager's Guide, application virtualization is defined in the following way:

Software technology allowing applications to run on many different operating systems and hardware platforms. This usually means that the application has been written to use an application framework. It also means that applications running on the same system that do not use this framework do not get the benefits of application virtualization. More advanced forms of this technology offer the ability to restart an application in case of a failure, start another instance of an application if the application is not meeting service-level objectives, or provide workload balancing among multiple instances of an application to achieve high levels of scalability. Some really sophisticated approaches to application virtualization can do this magical feat without requiring that the application be re-architected or rewritten using a special application framework.

There are two forms of this technology: one that executes on the client and the other on the server. In either case, the technology is meant to isolate applications from the underlying access mechanisms, operating systems, storage and network and run them in a virtual environment that prevents application/operating system incompatibilities and or provides other advanced features such as application streaming, workload management, automatic application restart and so on. This technology is distinctly different from access virtualization or processing virtualization.

Dan's Take: Calling a Tail a Leg Doesn't Make it One
After speaking with Sharir, I was immediately reminded of something Abraham Lincoln said: "How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn't make it a leg."

My first take is that calling processing virtualization, no matter how well augmented by management and storage software, application virtualization doesn't make it application virtualization.

In the first 10 minutes of our call, I felt that I could argue with nearly everything he said.  This isn't just a taxonomical disagreement: this is about a newcomer coming to a market without demonstrating an understanding or at least acknowledging what has come before, established competition in the market and going on to make broad claims about being the first in the market.

Application virtualization has been around for decades and companies such as AppZero, Citrix, DH2i, IBM, Microsoft, VMware and a host of others have been providing technology in this category for much longer than Robin Systems has existed. What does it say about a company that walks in the door of a crowded market and declares that it's the founder of the market segment?

Here are some of Sharir's claims and comments that deserve an answer:

  • Application virtualization offered by Citrix and VMware is a form of VDI.
    Not true. These companies are offering ways to encapsulate and deliver applications either to clients or servers. Their application virtualization offerings are different than their VDI offerings.

  • VMware created virtualization.
    Not true. Virtualization technology was first brought to market by IBM and Burroughs on their mainframes back in the 1960s. This was long before VMware was founded in 1998. In fact, VMware's founders told IDC analysts during an early conversation that the name "VMware" was paying homage to IBM's VM/360, just on x86-based systems. While VMware certainly is an important player, others came first on mainframes, single-vendor UNIX systems and even on x86-based systems. VMware was just the most successful commercially.

  • Hyper-convergence is a software phenomenon.
    Actually, hyper-convergence is bringing functions that previously were all found in a single cabinet in the 1960s, later seperated to become independent functions executing in separate cabinets in the 1990s through 2000s, all back together into a single cabinet. This is as much as a hardware configuratation as it is software that drives the hardware. Cisco, Dell, HPE and Lenovo all have strong offerings in this area.

  • Robin Systems was the first to use container technology to deliver applications in a virtual environment.
    Cisco, NetApp, Red Hat, SUSE, IBM and HPE have all spoken with me about this concept over the last couple of years. While Robin Systems might have developed technology that is easier to use, they clearly aren't the first with the idea that containers could be used to deliver applications, application components or services in a virtualized environment.

My second take is that Robin Systems appears to be offering some interesting capabilities, based on processing virtualization, e.g. operating system virtualization and partitioning, also known as containers. Its product, AVP, might be of great use to companies interested in using containers to create a more flexible virtualized environment. That being said, it's not application virtualization in any classical sense nor is it the first vendor to offer such capabilities.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.


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