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A New Hypervisor Hits the Scene

I just took a briefing with Phoenix Technologies (took a briefing is journalese for "I just did an interview with them about their company.") You're probably familiar with them as a maker of the BIOS firmware that runs on many of today's computers (and may of yesterday's, since they're about a quarter-century old).

It was a fascinating talk about their entry into the virtualization market. Phoenix is making a hypervisor that's embedded in a system's BIOS. It's what the company calls a "Type 3" hypervisor, meaning it lives in a layer between the physical hardware (where "Type 1" hypervisors like ESX Server, Hyper-V and Xen live) and the operating system (which houses "Type 2" hypervisors like VMware Server, Microsoft Virtual Server and PC virtualization products like VMware Fusion, Parallels for Mac and Virtual PC.)

Phoenix's hypervisor, called HyperSpace, runs essentially alongside Windows XP (the only supported platform at present.) It virtualizes and encapsulates certain programs, like a browser, e-mail program or media player. Those programs are nearly instantly available when turning on your laptop or desktop, since they live at the BIOS level below the OS. Phoenix assures me that using such programs within HyperSpace will be essentially transparent to the end user. I think that makes sense; what user will want to have two consoles from which to choose a browser, when all they want to do is surf the 'Net?

Another advantage (and one that I believe Phoenix should spend more time publicizing) is that they're available if something happens to your computer. Blue Screen of Death? No problem; you can still get e-mail or have Internet access through a browser if they're in HyperSpace. This might allow you to download drivers or updates that could fix your problem.

The apps should also be much more secure than programs within Windows, given the extremely small footprint that hypervisors generally enjoy. Phoenix says that it's not competing with other hypervisors, being much more complementary. Guarav Banga, Phoenix's CTO, says they're not interested in the classic virtualization uses like server consolidation. I believe him; Phoenix is marketing this much more as a consumer and small business technology.

HyperSpace is a fascinating technology, and I'm interested to see it hit the marketplace. Phoenix is undoubtedly hitting up their cadre of OEMs that use Phoenix BIOS to include HyperSpace. Currently, the hypervisor is in the testing stage, and Phoenix didn't give a deliverable date (which might be hard anyway, since OEMs could largely control that.)

I'm very curious about whether you would use HyperSpace. Would it have advantages for you, and if so, how? Let me know.

Posted by Keith Ward on 03/21/2008 at 12:48 PM


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