LINUXWORLD - VMware virtual appliance a threat to the OS

A cofounder of VMware said Thursday that virtual appliances that let software run independent of an operating system could be taken as a threat to OS vendors.

The virtual appliance model could be a major threat to operating systems from major vendors such as Microsoft, says a cofounder of VMWare.

Mendel Rosenblum told an audience at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco Thursday that a virtual appliance, which bundles a software application with only the operating system code needed to make it run, can then be deployed on a virtualized server regardless of the host operating system. Rosenblum is also chief scientist of virtualization at VMware.

Asked if he thinks the virtual appliance model is a threat to OS vendors, principally Microsoft, Rosenblum said, "If I were in their shoes ... I think the answer is yes."

The virtual appliance bundle is similar to the software appliance, but is specifically designed to run on a virtualized server.

A virtualization "hypervisor," like VMware's, separates the server hardware from the OS and the rest of the software stack. The hypervisor creates multiple logical servers within one physical server, allowing it to run multiple applications, thus using more of the server's capacity.

Rosenblum sees the virtual appliance as an alternative to making applications fit ever larger and more complex operating systems, simplifying the software writing process by taking out parts of the OS not needed to run that application, or even creating a customized OS.

"What I consider predictive [of the threat] is their complexity," he said. "They've built this OS to the point that they basically have no choice but to actually go and put in a hypervisor. All the OS vendors want to own the hardware connection, but I see there is going to be a big battle over who gets control over the hardware."

The open-source Linux OS is "well positioned to be the OS of choice" for a virtual appliance, said Rosenblum, because its licensing model is very friendly to this type of use. A software developer can bundle the software with parts of Linux easily, while commercial OS vendors like Microsoft would "look askance" at something like that.

"VMware feels at home in the Linux community," said Rosenblum in his keynote address, a remark that one listener described later as "gratuitous."

Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer for Virtual Iron, a small virtualization software vendor, says 90 percent of VMware's virtualization runs on Microsoft Windows machines, not Linux. He described Rosenblum's address honoring Linux as "a revisionist view of history."

Virtual Iron's software products are based partly on the open-source Xen kernel for virtualization, which makes them far less expensive than VMware's products, Grandinetti said. XenSource is another Xen-based virtualization vendor.

Although VMware is the dominant player in the virtualization space, there is still a lot of market to pursue. Only about 2 percent to 3 percent of servers industry-wide are virtualized, less than the 5 percent to 7 percent range forecast by major industry analysts, he said.

"We're just getting started," Grandinetti said.

Rosenblum was a last-minute substitute for VMware president Diane Green, who is currently visiting with investment analysts discussing VMware's pending initial public offering (IPO) of stock. The stock is expected to begin selling on Aug. 14, though Rosenblum has to keep quiet about it.

"We're excited and hopeful," was all he could say.

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