Virtually Speaking: Bye-Bye Operating System?

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Jul 22, 2008


My husband works in the finance department of a large U.K.-based bank. Like most finance professionals, his eyes glaze over when back-end tech specs enter the discussion. Compliance issues pique his interest, but aside from that, he expects an application to "just work."

While VMware makes sweeping proclamations that Windows is finished, some wonder if the hypervisor will universally displace the operating system. Will end users even notice?

The fact that virtually everything in his organization, save applications, lives on the shared drive makes it far easier for this to happen. The problem is that corporate mandates dictate a large percentage of employees are doing the same, and so the shared drive was bloated and creating major storage issues.

Last Friday, he was involved in a marathon day-long meeting to plan how to declutter the shared drive. Representatives from accounting, finance, operations, compliance, and, of course, IT, were sequestered in a conference room for eight hours while they hammered out a plan.

As I was leaving the house Friday morning I was treated to an overview of what the day ahead held for him, to which I responded, "why don't you suggest they virtualize the servers?" I gave him the 30-second definition (I had a train to catch, and I could see his interest in the project in no way resembled mine).

His role in the discussion was limited to the finance department's needs; the back-end technicalities were someone else's primary concern. I'm always curious about end users' perceptions, and here was a live one, right in front of me.

IT staff members aside, end users, it's commonly known, don't care much about which vendor is supplying them the tools they'll be using to get it done. If the tools can streamline the process, so much the better.

This is interesting (and relevant) in the light of virtualization's latest predicted casualty: the operating system. While some publications proclaimed Windows is toast at the hands of VMware, others pondered the demise of Linux, but decided that in most cases the operating system would be with us for the long haul.

Is it possible, as one VMware exec has been widely quoted as saying, that virtual appliances running on thin layers of Linux are already replacing Windows and other large operating systems?

Sure. It's more than likely. Are these organizations in the majority? Highly doubtful. Will it be enough for most enterprises? Probably not.

Let's think deeper about this, shall we ... Hyper-V relies on Windows. Microsoft is 1) deeply entrenched in the majority of large enterprises, and 2) aware that its commitment to virtualization is not optional for it to remain a going concern. Sure, Hyper-V is basic and barebones right now, but it's being packaged as part of the operating system. It's inexpensive (a definite benefit these days) and it's easily tested and deployed.

Now that the product is developed, it would not be a significant a stretch for Microsoft to reposition or reintegrate, should the hypervisor bump the operating system from the drivers' seat.

So sure, it's possible, and it is fun to speculate. But for most user enterprises,what will matter most is that their applications and tools function as needed and their data is organized and accessible. Whether they get their via an operating system or a hypervisor is academic and primarily a concern of the IT department

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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