Posted by Srinivas Krishnamurti
Director of Product Management and Market Development
As we close out 2007, I wanted to take a few moments to jot
down some thoughts on virtual appliances in terms of accomplishments in 2007
and challenges we need to overcome in 2008.
A virtual appliance as a software distribution and
management paradigm is relatively new. VMware first talked about this paradigm in the context of launching the
VMware Technology Network in June 2005. Six
vendors (BEA, Oracle, RedHat, Novell, IBM and Spike Source) pre-installed and
pre-configured their applications in virtual machines for easier demos. We created a website (www.vmtn.net) for customers
to easily find and download these virtual machines. That was the modest beginning of virtual
appliances and Virtual Appliance Marketplace.
Since then this paradigm has been getting more attention. We ended 2006 with about 300 virtual appliances
available through the Virtual Appliance Marketplace (vam.vmware.com). Customers were downloading appliances at the
rate of one every minute. ISVs were
starting to sell production-ready virtual appliances by mid-2006. Even though many tech-savvy professionals
were starting to talk about the benefits, validity and long-term outlook of
virtual appliances, the vast majority, including press and analysts, took a
wait-and-see approach to this initiative. Virtual appliances received more attention in 2007 and below are some of
the significant highlights from this year:
Virtual appliances outside the security space became a reality with many tier 1 ISVs building virtual appliances. BEA launched their LiquidVM initiative. Business Objects, IBM, McAfee and others
have all joined in with virtual appliance editions of their software
were starting to buy production-ready virtual appliances. I’ve met numerous customers who bought
virtual appliances and swear by the simplicity and ease of management they
offer. Our marketing team will be
posting quite a few success stories shortly.
leading analysts initiated coverage on virtual appliances. Gartner, IDC, Forrester, Yankee Group
and others are actively tracking virtual appliances.
Enough OS, pronounced “juice”) started to get traction within the OS
Ubuntu JeOS is already
available – kudos to the Canonical team for being the first OS vendor to take
on Virtual Appliances. RedHat
announced their intention to offer their version. Even though Microsoft hasn’t really
participated in the virtual appliance space, their latest OS offers users the
ability as part of Server Cores to install only those components that are
required for each server installation and if they can get their licensing and
pricing right, they could be a huge player in this space as well. I’m sure Novell and other OS vendors will
eventually get on the bandwagon as well.
vendors including Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, VMware and XenSource
collaborated on Open
Virtual Machine Format (OVF), which was submitted to DMTF as a
standard for packaging and distributing virtual appliances.
around virtual appliances started growing with many startups either getting
in or getting traction. rPath,
virtualappliances.net, JumpBox, cohesiveFT stick out in this category.
vendors mimicked VMware’s Virtual Appliance Marketplace with their
own. Parallels introduced their VA
Directory. RedHat rolled out RHX.
joined the party with the VHD
Test Drive program (launched in November
2006) to allow ISVs to redistribute Windows in a virtual machine for
While the progress in 2007 was tremendous, there are still
some challenges that need to be addressed before virtual appliances become the
defacto standard for distributing and managing software. The challenges can be broadly categorized
into the following sections:
Lifecycle Management Tools:
Even though many aforementioned startups and existing vendors offer some
tools to create virtual appliances, the general feeling is that this area
is still in its infancy. Customers
frequently ask questions such as: how do I patch a virtual appliance? Can I use my existing patch management
infrastructure to patch virtual appliances? Can I use my existing systems management
tool to monitor and manage virtual appliances? At the same time, ISVs are now having to
support OS patches as well, which they have not traditionally had to deal
with. So they are looking for tools
to track, test and roll out appropriate OS fixes in a timely manner. There is a bit of chicken-and-egg
problem here with some customers not deploying virtual appliances until
these issues are resolved while systems management vendors are reluctant
to add these capabilities to their product until they see a wide-scale
adoption of virtual appliances in their customer base. Better tools will help break the logjam.
Processes: More than the
lack of tools, the real issue that comes up often times is that the
industry is still trying to figure out how to manage virtual
appliances. This paradigm
completely changes many processes we have learnt and mastered over the
years to manage our data centers. Customers
are trying to answer some very basic questions such as: who do I call for
support? How do I monitor and manage these virtual appliances? Will my existing tools work? If each virtual appliance has its own
OS, how the heck do I manage this complexity? There are viable answers to all these
questions but paradigm shifts don’t happen overnight. Vendors pushing virtual appliances will
need to communicate a lot more to address such concerns.
Microsoft Windows Redistribution:
Traditionally Linux has been the OS of choice for most hardware
appliances. Vendors have not used
Windows as much due to price and lack of modularity. On top of that, Microsoft does not allow
ISVs to redistribute Windows in a virtual machine for production use,
which really puts a damper on shipping Windows-based virtual
appliances. For some ISVs this is
an insurmountable problem because the cost to port the application to
Linux is too much to swallow. As
noted above, Microsoft launched their VHD Test Drive program, which allows
ISVs to ship Windows-based virtual appliances for evaluation use
only. This is definitely a step in
the right direction but until they change their licensing policy around redistributing
Windows in a virtual machine for production use, most virtual appliances
will only be viable for ISVs who support both Windows and Linux. Once licensing and redistribution issues
are resolved, Microsoft will need to work on a different pricing model for
Windows shipped in virtual appliances. This will be especially interesting because a typical virtual
appliance will only use a small part of the OS and this varies across ISVs
so pricing it appropriately would be challenging.
Where do virtual appliances go from here? Will they turn the corner in 2008? Will the developments in 2008 be the tipping
point? 2008 sure promises to be an
exciting year for virtual appliances. Stay tuned and if you haven’t downloaded a virtual appliance, visit vam.vmware.com.
Happy New Year!