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The Virtual Machine is a Legacy Construct

The Virtual Machine is a Legacy Construct

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Virtualisation is great.  As well as being a massively cool technology (and I’ve been using it since 1987), it has allowed us to manage more workload, first by running multiple mainframe instances on the same physical machine and second in the x86 world to take our physical servers and consolidate them into larger physical footprints.  In a way virtualisation had to evolve and for Microsoft it was probably their saviour.  Whilst Unix and therefore Linux could cope reasonably well with multiple applications on the same O/S, Windows is awful at it.  However to get best usage out of our servers with massive compute power, something was needed to get best usage out of them and virtualisation was it.

From a practical perspective, consolidating existing physical machines was a great start; it made the process easy to understand and execute, with various P2V tools available to take existing servers and make them virtual without a rebuild.  But the idea of creating a virtual machine which mimics a physical one just retains the issues of maintenance and management we had previously, but on a larger scale as it’s easier to create hundreds or thousands of VMs.  Isn’t it time to ditch the virtual machine?

Rackspace recently announced they had acquired ZeroVM, an open-source lightweight “cloud hypervisor”.  The software deploys only the software components required to build a (Linux) VM, making the process of creating a container (I won’t use the term virtual machine), much quicker.  Their focus is on putting the O/S with the data, so moving data to a VM is quicker, but I think the benefit is probably the reverse; we take away the need to think of building virtual machines and all of the related overhead.  Instead we simply put an “execution wrapper” around our data that makes it accessible.  The potential saving for system administrators is huge.

To add another layer, imagine we took technology from, say, Bromium that allows workload to be hardware isolated without the need for a VM and at a more granular level.  This gives us the security layer to manage multiple containers, all hardware protected (incidentally just like the mainframe did originally with hardware-based memory protection).

The Architect’s View

We need to move on from virtualising physical objects in our virtual world and start to run just with containers holding data.  As it’s open source, I’m looking forward to investigating ZeroVM further and see if it can deliver the promise it offers.

Related Links

Comments are always welcome; please indicate if you work for a vendor as it’s only fair.  If you have any related links of interest, please feel free to add them as a comment for consideration.

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Copyright (c) 2013 – Brookend Ltd, first published on http://architecting.it, do not reproduce without permission.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • Dale


    I am going to have a better look at ZeroVM, but hasn’t the concept of containers been around for a long time as well? BSD Jails, Solaris Zones/Containers and the various Linux implementations. I know my own experience with Solaris Zones was an interesting one and it introduced a whole host of challenges around OS patching.

    • http://thestoragearchitect.com/ Chris M Evans

      Dale, that’s true, there are other approaches already out there – Docker (www.docker.io) is another example. It’s definitely an interesting area of discussion.


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