January 3, 2007

Virtual appliances, virtual SaaS?

I chatted with VMware today about virtualization, virtual appliances, and so on. But first we covered some basics:

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


4 Responses to “Virtual appliances, virtual SaaS?”

  1. DBMS2 — DataBase Management System Services»Blog Archive » Data integration appliance vendor Cast Iron Systems on January 4th, 2007 8:51 pm

    […] Being even less dependent on hardware tweaks than some other appliance vendors, they might seem to be a natural candidate for the VMware “virtual appliance” strategy. But while Cast Iron has built a VMware-based prototype, the find that most of their customers don’t have a VMware infrastructure in place. Thus, going VMware-based would obviate many of the deployment advantages of the appliance format. • • • […]

  2. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Proofpoint and VMware – an apparently non-trivial virtual appliance success story on January 12th, 2007 1:33 am

    […] I talked with Proofpoint today, and got a more positive view about VMware’s virtual appliance strategy than I’ve gotten from other appliance vendors. They cite over 500 downloads in the past couple of months, of which a significant fraction have turned into actual sales. Specific deployment scenarios they mentioned include: […]

  3. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Sean McGrath correctly predicts the future of enterprise SaaS on January 20th, 2007 5:29 am

    […] I was proud of coming up with the idea to blend SaaS and appliances, but it turns out Sean McGrath beat me to it. • • • […]

  4. Check Point Software’s unusual appliance strategy | The Monash Report on June 30th, 2008 8:30 pm

    […] Point also has VMware-based virtual appliances, but so far isn’t getting much uptake of those except for demo purposes. Share: These icons […]

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