Beyond the Hypervisor as we know it

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And here we are again. I’ve busy doing some internal stuff for my company so the tweets and blogs were put on low maintenance.

Anyway, VMware launched its new version of vSphere and the amount of attention and noise it received is overwhelming both from a positive as well as negative side. Many customers feel they are ripped off by the new licensing schema whereas from a technical perspective all admins seem to agree the enhancements being made are fabulous. Being a techie myself I must say the new and updated stuff is extremely appealing and I can see why many admins would like to upgrade right away. I assume that’s only possible after the financial hurdles have been taken.

So why this subject? “VMware is not going to disappear and neither does MS or Xen” I hear you say. Well, probably not however let take a step back why these hypervisors were initially developed. Basically what they wanted to achieve is the option to run multiple applications on one server without having any sort of library dependency which might conflict and disturb or corrupt another application. VMware hasn’t been the initiator of this concept but the birthplace of this all was IBM’s mainframe platform. Even back in the 60’s and 70’s they had the same problem. Two or more applications had to run on the same physical box however due to conflicts in libraries and functions IBM found a way to isolate this and came up with the concept of virtual instances which ran on a common platform operating system. MVS which later became OS/390 and now zOS.

When the open systems guys spearheaded by Microsoft in the 80’s and 90’s took off they more or less created the same mess as IBM had seen before. (IBM did actually learn something and pushed that into OS/2 however that OS never really took off).
When Microsoft came up with so called Dynamic Link Libraries this was heaven for application developers. They could now dynamically load a DLL and use its functions. However they did not take into account that only one DLL with a certain function could be loaded as any one particular point. And thus when DLL got new functionality and therefore new revision levels sometimes they were not backward compatible and very nasty conflict would surface. So we were back to zero.

And along came VMware. They did for the Windows world what IBM had done many years before and created a hypervisor which would let you run multiple virtual machines each isolated from each other with no possibility of binary conflicts. And they still make good money of it.

However also the application developers have not been pulling things out of their nose and sit still. They also have seen that they no longer can utilize the development model they used for years. Every self respecting developer now programs with massive scalability and distributed systems in mind based on cloud principles. Basically this means that applications are almost solely build on web technologies with javascript (via node.js), HTML 5 or other high level languages. These applications are then loaded upon distributed systems like openstack, hadoop and one or two others. These platforms create application containers where the application is isolated and has to abide by the functionality of the underlying platform. This is exactly what I wrote almost two years ago where the application itself should be virtualised instead of the operating system. (See here)

When you take this into account you can imagine that the hypervisors, as we know them now, at some point in time will render themselves useless. The operating system itself is not important anymore and is doesn’t matter where these cloud systems run on. The only thing that is important is scalability and reliability.  Companies like VMware, Microsoft, HP and others are not stupid  and see this coming. This is also the reason why they start building these massive data centres to accommodate the customers who adopt this technology and start hosting these applications.

Now here come the problems with this concept. SLA’s. Who is going to guarantee you availability when everything is out of your control. Examples like outages with Amazon EC2, Microsoft’s cloud email service BPOS, VMware’s Cloud Foundry outage or Google GMAIL service show that even these extremely well designed systems at some point in time run into Murphy and the question is do you want to depend on these providers for business continuity. Be aware you have no vote how and were your application is hosted. That is totally at the discretion of the hosting provider. Again, its all about risk assessment versus costs versus flexibility and other arguments you can think of so I leave that up to you.

So where does this take you? Well, you should start thinking about your requirements. Does my business need this cloud based flexibility or should I adopt a more hybrid model where some applications are build and managed by myself/my staff.

In any way you will see more and more applications being developed for both internal, external and hybrid cloud models. This then brings us back to the subject line that the hypervisors as we know them today will cease to exist. It might take a while but the software world is like a diesel train, it starts slowly but when it´s on a roll its almost impossible to stop so be prepared.

Kind regards,
Erwin van Londen

About Erwin van Londen

Master Technical Analyst at Hitachi Data Systems
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