A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Alex Barrett regarding what I though was a talk on the direction of the server virtualization landscape. Our conversation resulted in her article “Xen virtualization will catch up to VMware in 2008.” After reading the article, I was a little surprised at how some of my words were quoted out of context and wanted to offer my take on the virtualization market and its future direction.
VMware’s Role in Shaping the Future
Many of VMware’s competitors have based their product development road map on VMware’s VI 3 feature set. When I state that Xen platforms can catch-up to VMware’s VI3 features by mid 2008, I mean just that. By this time next year, several Xen vendors will offer mature dynamic failover (comparable to VMware HA) and live migration (comparable to Vmotion) solutions. In doing so, Xen platforms will offer the features that today’s enterprise environments are demanding. Virtual Iron has been very aggressive with their development roadmap and XenSource is working hard as well.
Still, in order to “catch up,” one would have to assume that VMware is sitting on their hands, which of course if far from the case. So will the Xen vendors be caught up to VMware next year? I don’t think so. Will they offer the features and maturity that allow them to be observed as an alternative in the enterprise? Yes.
However, looking into my crystal ball, I see the next generation VMware virtual infrastructure architecture as once again raising the bar. VMware’s ESX hypervisor will have a smaller footprint and improved security. Features that are important in the enterprise, including dynamic VM failover and backup will see significant improvements. You should also to see the complexity of storage integration reduced as well. Technologies such as N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) and the proliferation of iSCSI will significantly ease VM storage integration and failover.
I also expect to see more leadership from VMware in the following areas:
- Virtual network security, including monitoring and isolation
- Storage virtualization – development of consistent standards and best practices for integration between server and storage virtualization platforms
- Centralized account management and directory service integration (this is one of my VCB pet peeves)
- Virtual desktop management
Keep in mind that oftentimes many VMware Workstation features find their way into ESX as well. So you should expect some of the new Workstation 6 features to play a part in the next ESX Server product release.Record/replay, is one of my favorite new features, and has numerous uses for testing, troubleshooting, and security auditing.
As the market leader, we should all expect VMware to continue to provide leadership in virtualization innovation, and I don’t expect that to subside.
Virtualization and Security
Security has been getting much more attention lately and will continue to do so in coming years. My recent article “Virtual Switch Security” outlined some of the current weaknesses regarding Layer 2 traffic isolation in some virtual switches. Virtual switches need to improve their default isolation as well as manageability. Port mirroring is an important feature in virtual switches and will be needed for integration with intrusion detection and prevention systems. However, administrators need to be able to control port mirroring within a virtual switch and in turn enable or disable port mirroring on specific ports as needed. VLAN integration is and will remain a concern for virtual switches and vendors that do not offer 802.1Q VLAN support will remain at a disadvantage.
Intrusion detection is becoming more of a concern for numerous organizations, and the uptake of virtualization support by many security ISVs is evidence of that. For example, Catbird’s V-Agent can be used to quickly add an IDS to existing virtual networks.
Hypervisor security is naturally important as well. If you would like to see some of the issues out there today, take a look at Harley Stagner’s excellent article on preventing and detecting rogue VMs. The blue pill attack has also received considerable interest. For more information on blue pill, take a look at Joanna Rutkowska’s presentation “Virtualization – the other side of the coin.”
The security concerns relating to virtualization are no more scary than what we already see with existing operating systems and applications. While security concerns should not prevent you from implementing virtualization, you cannot ignore security either. Hypervisors and management consoles (such as the ESX console which uses a Red Hat-based kernel) still must be managed and updated like all other server operating systems.
To validate the security of their architectures, you should expect virtualization vendors to obtain EAL certification for their respective platforms.
At the moment, standards are more on my wish list than an actual prediction. I’m hopeful that we will see a common virtual hard disk format within the next 2-5 years. Doing so could provide virtual machine portability amongst all server virtualization platforms and make it considerably easier for ISVs to package and deploy virtual appliances. Administrators would be free to choose their preferred virtualization platform and run virtualization systems on that platform regardless of the virtualization engine that may have packaged a particular VM.
Management standards would also go far in easing virtualization deployments and management. Common APIs for management and backup would allow any third party management or backup tool vendor to support all major virtualization platforms. With industry support of the DMTF System Virtualization, Partitioning, and Clustering (SVPC) Working Group, realization of standardized virtualization management can become a reality.
Application and OS virtualization, fueled by vendors such as SWsoft, Sun, DataSynapse, and Trigence, will continue to add to the virtualization mix in the enterprise. Down the road, application virtualization can significantly ease application deployment by allowing ISVs to package their applications in virtualized containers, thus far reducing application deployment complexity. These technologies run alongside server virtualization deployments today, and it’s very likely that they may be deployed within server virtualization frameworks down the road.
Much work still remains in aligning the non-virtualized industry with the virtualized world. Both application and OS vendors need to be clear on their virtualization licensing terms, with licensing models that support virtualization that are either based on physical or virtual resources. Hybrid licensing that includes terms for virtualization and restrictions on relocation of VMs to other physical resources impedes virtualization adoptions and adds unnecessary confusion. In 2005 Microsoft added a needed jolt to virtualization by being the first vendor to define product licensing in support of server virtualization. Today they need to go further and set the gold standard for licensing of operating systems and applications inside virtual environments. That model should be clear and concise, with simple terms for virtual machines and without limits on portability. “Buffet” style licensing that provides for unlimited VMs on a physical host is ideal as well. Choices and rules are good, but let’s not get carried away. In terms of licensing, less is more. If Microsoft gives us a simple licensing model, many other industry vendors will follow.
Virtualization’s future holds plenty of promise, and we’ll all be the beneficiaries of that promise.