Could VMware be gearing up to manage hypervisors other than its own ESX hypervisor platform? That's the question being raised by a number of people in the virtualization community after one of their own began blogging about a string of commands found buried in VMware's vSphere 4.1.
At the end of October, William Lam, a systems engineer and VMware vExpert, wrote an interesting blog post about a number of documented and undocumented virtual machine (VMX) configuration parameters found while dissecting a VMware vSphere 4.1 VMX binary that's used to load virtual machine configuration files. Lam found more than 1,200 undocumented VMware VMX parameters.
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What Lam found was a string of code that appears to be able to detect whether the Microsoft Hyper-V or Xen hypervisor is present.
%s: %s detected by CPUID
%s: VMware detected
%s: Xen detected by hypercall
Xen detected but hypervisor unrecognized (Xen variant?)
Lam writes, "I noticed the following strings around detecting certain guest hypervisors, is this a hint that VMware is going to support other virtual 'hypervisors', specifically Microsoft and Xen?"
Dave Bartoletti, a senior analyst at The Taneja Group, doesn't think so. "In my view, these strings don't expose anything interesting," said Bartoletti. "It certainly might be useful for VMware to be able to detect other hypervisors or VM types in a particular environment, for labeling and inventory if nothing else, but it's a leap to extrapolate that to a shift in management direction."
But therein lies the question: Would VMware support other hypervisors? After all, that is the real question -- "would" VMware support other hypervisors rather than "can" they support them. Obviously, VMware has or could easily have the capabilities necessary to support other platforms, but is it in the company's best interest to do so?
We know that VMware wants to be the layer of software that owns and operates the data center or cloud of tomorrow. If the industry moves to a heterogeneous virtualization environment, that theory might make sense and be in line with VMware's overall strategy. But are we any closer to that reality today? Or do we still live in a VMware-dominated server virtualization world?
The virtualization giant has been downplaying other platforms like Hyper-V and Xen since the beginning of "virtual time," never really giving them any credence or acknowledging them as any real form of competition. But if VMware actually began managing these other platforms, it would be counter to anything and everything they have ever said about these other hypervisors and would immediately validate the competition as real contenders against the ESX product.
"VMware will support other hypervisors only when it makes financial sense for them to do so, or, put simply, when the opportunity to sell management solutions outweighs the cost of displacing competitive hypervisors," adds Bartoletti. "At this point, I don't think VMware is showing even the early signs of losing confidence in its ability to displace competitors."
Whether you believe the hypervisor has become commodity or not, one factor stands out as truth: The virtualization market's next frontier is the management stack. And VMware doesn't appear to be a stranger to that truth. The company has been spending a lot of time and money building out its own management stack as competition for managing this next iteration of the data center unfolds. The Big Four have been making acquisitions to expand their own technology to try and cobble together a new virtualization and cloud management story to remain relevant as the data center starts to shift from physical to virtual. The difference here is that these guys aren't focused on one virtualization technology.
Analysts expect the virtualization management market to continue to increase in scope and size, reaching a market size somewhere north of $2 billion by 2013. This growth will continue to be fueled as more organizations continue to grow their virtual environments by continuing to expand into production. But will they be doing so on VMware, Microsoft, or Citrix technology? Or will it be a heterogeneous virtualization environment?
Bartoletti ends by saying, "As I've said often, far too many management vendors have died trying to be multiplatform before there's any real demand for that."
So do we have demand for that yet? Or is VMware possibly getting ready for the day that it has no other choice but to be heterogeneous with its management stack?