Profoss / Events / January 2008: Virtualisation / Speakers / John Abbott / John Abbott interview

John Abbott interview

How did the virtualisation market evolve in 2007?

To illustrate the speed that the market is moving, just take a look back at the past few months: VMware just had the biggest tech IPO since Google. Citrix Systems bought tiny XenSource for a truly outrageous multiple of its trailing twelve month revenue. Microsoft is scrambling to introduce its own hypervisor technology for Windows Server 2008. AMD and Intel have introduced new generations of their chips with the hypervisor as the target OS. The power to host virtual machines on the x86 microprocessor, a curiosity confined to test labs as recently as 2006, has moved to the center of the conversation around IT.


Yet thanks to the open source Xen, Kernel Virtual Machine and other hypervisor projects, everyone agrees that the effective price of the hypervisor itself is trending towards zero. All of this activity, in other words, is at the management layer.

Lots of virtualisation companies appeared recently. Should buyers be extra cautious when choosing their providers?

Over the last few years virtualization technology has prospered, proliferated and become almost ubiquitous. But this very proliferation has raised two new questions. The first is a technical one, of concern to users and vendors: The explosion of virtual machines has created its own management headache. How best should they be deployed, controlled and configured? There are now multiple, sometimes competing ways to manage virtual machines.

The second question is for vendors and investors. The number of companies jumping into the virtualization arena has exploded..Six companies represented VM management in our first major report on datacenter virtualization, published in December 2006. Less than twelve months later, we profile fifty privately-held companies competing in exactly the same sector. Nor do we claim to have reached every last vendor. The array of choices is dazzling, and bewildering. There are too many moving parts and too many players who won't be around in a year or two. Consolidation in the form of merger and acquisition is inevitable. Who is going to buy? who will be bought? and who will disappear?

Isn't it a bit over-hyped these days?

Yes, inevitably after the VMware IPO. But the penetration rate of virtualization is still remarkably low, so there’s still a huge opportunity out there. What is the position of the Free and Open Source solutions on the market? VMware pioneered the ground, but the sheer usefulness of x86 virtualization – let alone the huge sums of money at stake – inspired a swathe of imitators. Many of these imitators – not only Xen and KVM but Denali and OKL4 – were offered as open source software. It was Xen, though, through its commercial backer, venture-funded XenSource, that gained most market mindshare. The availability of a free bare-metal x86 hypervisor did to VMware what Linux had done to Sun's Solaris business and JBoss to BEA's WebLogic. It took a chunk out of the low end of the incumbent's market, and threatened to commodify the platform altogether. Is virtualisation interesting for both small and big companies? / What company profiles are adopting virtualisation with the most beneficial effect? SMB’s have struggled to justify the cost of enterprise-level VMware technology, but Virtualization may be the first practical approach to business continuity and disaster recovery for smaller companies, but only if backup and HA are in place. High availability, in particular, takes up where VMware's feted VMotion technology leaves off. If customers are to use the tools for VMs, however, backup and HA must be tightly integrated with familiar management environments.

Do you agree that the future is in the management tools?

Yes. It’s largely thanks to open source projects that the hypervisor has become a commodity. Therefore competition has moved to the management layer. New architectures call for new management approaches. Many startups have emerged, hypervisor vendors are now selling virtualization administration, and with VMware and Citrix emerging as serious competitors, Sun and SWsoft are racing to catch up. Microsoft is waiting in the wings. The threatened management incumbents must respond. Players are proliferating, consolidation is at hand. How will the market evolve?

Infrastructure virtualization software – which treats every datacenter resource as a bare metal compute node, able to be assigned to the highest-priority workload – requires more or less drastic changes to current modes of operation. The vendors must figure out how to sell the benefits of such changes to customers – or mitigate the disruption by making their software easier to implement.

Automation will continue to heat up as customers seek force multipliers to help them manage virtual machine sprawl; but automation vendors need to package their powerful frameworks to make them easier to implement for specific tiresome chores. Test lab automation, which lets developers test code in virtual machines much earlier in the development cycle, is the first and best example of what such packages might look like.

Workspace virtualization may be one of the most far-reaching and useful technology to evolve from this technology. By centralizing hosting and administration of Windows desktops, this approach brings those desktops into the enterprise infrastructure, achieving economies of scale and greatly simplifying how PCs are managed, patched, upgraded and made compliant. Small wonder many new and established vendors consider workspace virtualization the holy grail of IT.

We expect a malicious hypervisor root attack in the near future. Specialist virtualization security vendors, already getting attention, will gain considerable mindshare in the aftermath.