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VMworld Update: A Look at What's Ahead

Here's a snippet of the news coming out of this week's VMworld conference.

VMworld is just a day old, and it seems that every vendor in the virtualization space has something to announce. Since my column has been dedicated to solving problems, I'll highlight the number of initiatives in the virtualization management space that will change how you deploy and manage virtual machines in the near future. Major announcements in this area include:

  • Embedded hypervisors
  • Open Virtual Machine Format (OVF)
  • Virtual System Profile

VMware publicly announced its long-rumored embedded hypervisor, named ESX 3i, on Monday. Last week, I blogged on the impact of embedded hypervisors following the XenSource announcement regarding its embedded hypervisor.

In short, an embedded hypervisor is a virtualization hypervisor like VMware ESX Server or XenSource XenExpress that ships on server hardware, such as in flash memory. This means that no hard disk is required to load a virtualization platform and may ultimately lead to servers that ship with embedded hypervisors instead of pre-installed operating systems.

Embedded hypervisors are smaller, with significantly reduced attack footprints, since they're shipped by an independent hardware vendor (IHV) and, as a result, only require a limited set of device drivers (to support the hardware shipped by the IHV) in addition to the core hypervisor code. In Tuesday's keynote, it was added that the following VMware hardware partners would ship ESX 3i embedded hypervisors on their platforms: Dell, HP, IBM, Fujitsu Siemens and NEC.

With Microsoft's market presence, I think that it's only a matter of time before the Windows Server Virtualization service running on Windows Server 2008 Core ships as an embedded hypervisor.

Open Virtual Machine Format (OVF) is, in my opinion, the most significant announcement at VMworld. OVF resulted from a collaboration of all major virtualization platform vendors, including VMware, Microsoft and XenSource. OVF provides a standard XML wrapper that can be associated with one or more VMs. Hypervisors that support OVF will be able to run any virtual machine encapsulated with the OVF wrapper. For example, a virtual machine created on a VMware platform will be able to run on a Microsoft virtualization platform that supports OVF. Vendor support for OVF packaging and reading may be available by as soon as the end of this year.

Although it was first announced months ago, the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) Virtual System Profile received significant attention at VMworld. The Virtual System Profile defines a common information model (CIM)-based interface for managing virtual machines. For you, this means that a single interface can be used to programmatically manage virtual machines, regardless of the virtualization platform (VMware, Microsoft, Xen, etc.). In the long-term, adoption of the CIM standards will result in the availability of management tools capable of managing and monitoring any virtualization platform. Virtualization management scripts written by administrators will also have the capability of performing common tasks across disparate virtualization platforms.

While hosted by VMware, this year's VMworld conference announcements have been more about the virtualization industry as a whole. The interoperability standards highlighted at the conference are groundbreaking; it's not every day that all major vendors in a technology segment get together and agree on standards for interoperability. So in addition to being able to purchase a server with an embedded hypervisor, by next year you'll also be able run any VM packaged using the OVF standard on that hypervisor. Virtualization management and interoperability have been pain points felt by all of us in recent years. While the prescription for our virtual pain has been written, we now just have to wait for it to be filled.

About the Author

Chris Wolf is VMware's CTO, Global Field and Industry.

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