I chatted with VMware today about virtualization, virtual appliances, and so on. But first we covered some basics:
- VMware quotes a figure of 20,000 enterprise customers, if you count everybody who is at least testing the software and so on; i.e., it’s a somewhat inflated figure. Still, the “real” number is surely big.
- They claim ¼ of those have a “VMware first” policy, to deploy new apps on a virtual rather than dedicated machine. That’s impressive until you realize enterprise try to roll their own apps as rarely as possible these days.
- They suggest VMware is extremely helpful at times you’d like to have two copies of the same platform – e.g., for development, or when you have to take the system down for brief maintenance. It’s hard to argue with that claim.
- We didn’t have the time to talk about my performance concerns.
As for how this all plays with appliances and SaaS – that’s largely a future, but potentially a very interesting one. Here’s what I mean.
In July, 2005, VMware starting pushing the concept of “virtual appliance” with 6 ISVs, mainly large software vendors who wanted to make their software easy to deploy for evaluation cycles. By November, 2006 they’d rolled out a “marketplace” with 380 ISVs, although many of those seem to be single individuals offering software for free. Microsoft, Cisco and so on have rival announcements of partnerships and so on, but I haven’t ascertained whether these get past the Barney level (“I love you, you love me” without real substance).
Basically, a virtual appliance is a bundled software stack (e.g., DBMS plus OS), with more or less the same ease-of-deployment advantages boasted by regular appliances (assuming, of course, that you’ve deployed virtualization in the first place). However, virtual appliances lack the other big advantage of regular appliances – specialized hardware. Right now, they do not support the networking cards, encryption chips, and so forth that many appliance vendors use. What’s more, as I noted previously, I don’t see how they could be as well tuned in their hardware/software combinations as real appliances are. VMware has APIs and a “community source” program to encourage one-off extensions to support special hardware, but mainly this is an area where future innovation will be needed. As to when that innovation will come, and whether it will come primarily from the hardware or the virtualization side — well, that remains to be seen. But if I wanted to grow market share or start a new venture on the hardware side today, I’d be looking to generic appliance support (with a strong blade orientation, of course) as the way to make my mark.
And here’s something that very few people seem to have thought about so far – virtual SaaS. As with appliances, SaaS has as one of it major selling points ease of deployment. What’s more, another of its big virtues – rapid update cycle – requires super-easy deployment as well. Traditionally, this is done on a hosted basis. But there’s actually no reason the same benefits couldn’t be provided using virtual appliance technology. So if issues of data privacy or control or whatever are barriers to the adoption of SaaS applications – well, they won’t always have to be. Conversely, if traditional packaged software vendors want to co-opt SaaS’s benefits, they should be perfectly able to, performance-overhead-cost issues perhaps aside.
EDIT: The specific VMware gentleman I spoke with was
- Srinivas Krishnamurti
- Director, Product Management and Market Development