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Virtualization engulfs LinuxWorld 2007: A preview

Bernard Golden, contributor

LinuxWorld 2007 has added virtualization tracks and keynotes at this year's conference -- a welcome and insightful move. With the increasing diffusion of virtualization into Linux operating

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systems, Linux reckons to be a strong contender for foundation of the future data center.

Of course, that's the future, but we're in the here and now. Virtualization has been part of major Linux distros for less than a year, so it's in its early days; but this year's virtualization track offers some insights about where virtualization on Linux is going. At the same time, the themes of the sessions is a bit mixed, and I see quite a few gaps in the show's coverage.

It's clear that the basic value proposition of virtualization embedded in the operating system (OS) is accepted; but no track is focusing on that. Oh well…

Hot session topics or hype?

For sheer combustibility, go to or read the coverage about the session featuring the interesting and roguishly controversial Simon Crosby, CTO of XenSource. He will discuss Xen and its alternatives, VMware and Microsoft. This should be entertaining, and it introduces an important subject, the relationship of Linux and Microsoft vis-a-vis virtualization.

As usual, there are the standard sessions warning people about the challenges of a new technology. In my head, I subtitle these sessions: "This new technology may sound great, but think about all the problems it causes." Also as usual, most of these sessions are presented by vendor execs and are designed to sell that vendor's services/products, which naturally solve those problems.

In general, I think these sessions are good only for people who want to learn more about a specific product. So, before you enter, read the fine print in the session descriptions, folks.

Anyway, some sessions focus on the purported security vulnerabilities of virtualization, which are unproven, to my mind. Others hype the frightening prospect that since virtual machines are so easy to provision, VMs will breed and overpopulate, overrunning data centers like sex-crazed rabbits.

Really, isn't the prospect of easy VM instantiation one for which we should raise our voices in thanks? I'd much rather face a management complexity than the protracted procurement, hardware installation, connection, OS and application installation and configuration, application tune-up dance that is today's system provisioning mess. Why fear easy machine implementation and needing to manage the "burden" of lots of VMs? In the words of our fearless President, bring it on.

Sam Ramji of Microsoft will be speaking on interoperability, in both virtualization and "on the wire." I'm not really sure what the latter is, although I hope it isn't another rationalization about why open source vendors and users should pay money to Microsoft in order to deliver interoperability.

The really interesting news in Ramji's session will be about the work that Microsoft and Novell are doing to integrate Xen and Microsoft Server virtualization. In particular, there is some work going on to support paravirtualized drivers for Windows guest machines running on SUSE. Having this in place would allow Windows guests to run on SUSE Linux without needing to go through an emulation layer, thereby improving performance. I'm going to be particularly interested in hearing how these drivers will be licensed, as my suspicion is that they will end up needing to be open sourced, which will make them available to everyone, not just Novell customers.

The topic of Windows and Linux virtualization is really important, because a lot of virtualization initiatives are all about moving aging Windows systems onto more modern hardware while still isolating individual applications within their own operating system. Making that configuration work more smoothly and efficiently is a big deal.

KVM and Xen: No hype, it's hot

Another really interesting session covers the relationship between KVM and Xen. KVM, if you're not familiar with it, is another virtualization technology that people have gotten excited about, to the point where some have questioned whether it's the "real" future Linux virtualization. I'm not convinced about that, but the panel looks like a good one, with real techies discussing the topic, so look for a maximum of knowledge and minimum of spin.

Where's the metal?

Sessions on virtualization-enabling hardware developments are missing from this lineup, and surprisingly so, given the hardware-heavy exhibition floor. The virtualization-capable chips from Intel and AMD that are now being shipped are only the first step in hardware enablement; better memory management from the chip companies is on the horizon. There are also exciting hardware developments from network card manufacturers and storage vendors, too. Then, there's the new generation of machines that are targeted at virtualization, sporting large memory capacities and multiple-chip sockets. And, of course, there's the tantalizing news about VMware being embedded in the BIOS of an upcoming Dell box.

So, a session on hardware and virtualization would be great, but perhaps they'll think of that next year.

I expect to see a bunch of virtualization-oriented announcements at the show. Linux is a natural platform for virtualization, and it's great that the conference organizers recognize the need for more information on the topic. Try and attend the sessions or read about them, and get a peek at the future of Linux virtualization.

About the author: Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica Inc., a systems integrator based in San Carlos, Calif. He is the author of Succeeding with Open Source (Addison-Wesley, August 2004) and the creator of the Open Source Maturity Model (OSMM), a formalized method of locating, assessing, and implementing open source software.


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