What's next with hypervisors?

Experts discuss the world of hypervisors, which is complicated by the fact there are proprietary and open source tools and the latter are often used in different ways

Kim: It's similar to what we saw with the adoption of Linux. It isn't necessarily a displacement, although we have seen some specific examples of platform migrations. It is more net new growth, organically growing the enterprise data center around the solutions that drive the business. That's why we've chosen our particular strategy to adopt support for multiple hypervisor technologies, as well as in general, pursue a strategy that incorporates support for mixed IT environments.

Jollans: I think an interesting question is, does the hypervisor commoditize? Looking out five, 10 years, there's all sorts of possible ways it could commoditize. You could, for example, see the hypervisor included with every operating system. There's affinity between KVM and Linux and affinity between Hyper-V and Windows, which could tend to drive that. You could see the hypervisor go down into the hardware so that every server comes with a hypervisor embedded in it, in which case it's commoditized in that aspect. Or you could see it continue to be an independent hypervisor, or a mixture of all three. These dynamics are going to shape the market and I'm not sure we see how that plays out. 

Gillen: Adam, you're absolutely right. Hypervisors will continue to commoditize and going down to the hardware is absolutely what they have to do. That's where the hypervisor technology belongs long term.

NWW: Explore that a little bit: How will that change the whole environment?

Gillen: I would argue that it doesn't really change the game at all because it's not the hypervisor that defines the winners or losers, but rather the software that goes around the hypervisor that gives you the management capabilities. It' gives you the services and self provisioning capabilities. It gives you the capabilities of building out a single image cloud that allows your next generation applications to run. Those are the kinds of things that really are going to shape the future.

NWW: So, your cloud provider might have one kind of hypervisor, some servers you buy may come with another, and some special application somewhere else may have a third ...

Gillen: Yeah, I think that's a fair way to look at it. What does a hypervisor do? It provides a virtual image of what looks like a piece of hardware to the operating system that runs on it, so do I really care if it's Brand A, Brand B or Brand C hypervisor. As long as it looks like an x86 server to me my operating system is happy. Where the differentiation comes in is the things that manage and do things with those guest operating systems and the hypervisor itself.

NWW: How hard is it to patch together mixed hypervisor environments today?

Gillen: There are tools that can span multiple hypervisors, and I think it is a good thing to have a single pane of glass for all of your hypervisors. But the reality is most customers tend to use the set of management tools provided by the vendor that supplies the hypervisor, so you tend to have vertical silos of hypervisors and management tools, and if a customer has more than one hypervisor, they tend to have more than one management tool.

Kim: At SUSE we're seeing the same thing. Even though theoretically it is possible to have hypervisor interoperability, practically speaking it seems like our customers are still adopting technology in those kinds of silos.

NWW: How about you Adam, what's your take?

Jollans: I think it depends where they're coming from. I think if they've got a mindset of enterprise IT management, then they're looking at how to extend that downward to manage whatever virtual machines they have. Now the environment gets more complex as we get into virtualization on smartphones, virtualization on tablets and things like that. That's coming, and it will make the environment even more heterogeneous.

NWW: One last question. We've talked about the view from eight years out, but what about this coming year? What kind of developments would you folks expect to see in the next 12 months?

Gillen: We're seeing a lot of interest around private cloud right now. Over the next year customers are going to be making some commitment to what their private cloud strategy is going to look like, which means vendors need to make sure those customers understand their roadmap for delivering private cloud functionality. So the discussion really starts to elevate above the hypervisor and it starts to be more about, "OK, tell me what you can do to fill out my private cloud story."

The second thing is that KVM has arguably hit mainstream and we see it as being very acceptable for customers to deploy. Now, will that mean a real rush to KVM? And I think the answer is no. We've been talking all along here about how it becomes a very evolutionary play rather than a revolutionary play. So we would expect to see customers who deploy commercially supported Linux deploy more and more KVM with those Linux installations. So going forward that's one of the other dimensions we're going to see happening.

The third thing that's going to happen in 2012 is that Microsoft is going to bring out the next release of Hyper-V as part of Windows Server 8. Microsoft has made a lot of improvements in their product and, frankly, Microsoft needed to make improvements to get that product up to speed. But they're going to come forward with a product that's pretty feature rich and pretty capable, and at that point I think customer that have been holding out waiting for a Microsoft based solution will arguably have a product that they can feel confident in. [Also see: "Microsoft claims Hyper-V will leapfrog VMware"]

Jollans: I agree with all of that. I also expect to see the virtualization management tools for KVM maturing with a number of initiatives to fill out that space. I think we're going to see hypervisors become a standard part of the operating system. And I think we're going to start to see also people exploring nested virtualization, which is something that is just come into the Linux kernel. We've been doing a number of research projects with those machines inside virtual machines which, for scenarios like moving clouds about, could actually bring some benefits.

Kim: I would echo the things that Al and Adam have said about the evolution of the tools, the coexistence of the various technologies. Without going into a lot of detail, you'll also see fruits of our technical collaboration with Microsoft that extend beyond virtualization to some of the cloud solutions Microsoft will be bringing out.

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This story, "What's next with hypervisors?" was originally published by Network World.

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