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Virtual Standards Get Real

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Virtual machine (VM) vendors must ensure their products are interoperable, or they will lock customers into yet another proprietary stack, nullifying the promise of any time, any where computing on any platform that virtualization offers.

Citrix CTO Simon Crosby explains how emerging standards in virtualization are bringing enterprises closer to the promise of any where, any time computing.

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This was the major theme of Citrix Systems Chief Technology Officer Simon Crosby’s keynote speech Thursday at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco.

“Users want to go to any server working with any platform at any time, and [they] want any virtual machine on any platform at any time,” said Crosby. “The power of virtualization is achievable if and only if that happens.”

VM vendors still face several issues in getting to interoperability and an industry standard architecture, Crosby said. One is that VM installations still are manual processes, which makes things difficult for global implementations. Also, key business requirements haven’t been addressed, Crosby said.

The need for openness led major players in the virtualization market to jointly create a proposed standard, the Open Virtual Machine Format (OVF). Members of the team were XenSource (which is owned by Citrix), VMware, Microsoft, HP, IBM and Dell.

The OVF was submitted to the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), which develops management standards and promotes interoperability for enterprise and Internet environments. The DMTF accepted the proposed standard in September.

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The OVF will package all VMs with an XML wrapper that will let them run on any virtualization platform. It will also incorporate a security check to ensure the VM has not been tampered with, metadata about which hardware or hypervisorthe VM can run on, and a license check. The DMTF said the OVF will be rolled out this year.

The development of the OVF “is the first step toward the goal of interoperability because, if the OVF becomes the standard way of creating and distributing virtual appliances, we can get towards the goal of getting virtual machines to install and run correctly anywhere in the world on anybody’s product,” Crosby said.

Does Microsoft Need to Re-think Its Policies?

However, Microsoft might prove to be an obstacle on the path to this free access because of its licensing policies. Crosby said Microsoft “has to change its licensing policy to allow independent software vendors to redistribute Windows virtual licenses” through the OVF.

Microsoft did not reply with a comment by press time.

What about applying Microsoft’s licenses? No problem — the customer can do this through the OVF, Crosby said.

Virtualization will also enable enterprises to deliver desktops as a service. This will reduce hardware, software and management costs through consolidation.

“You don’t want to go from 200,000 PCs, which a large enterprise might have, to 200,000 virtual machines in the data center, that’s not going to make it any more manageable,” Crosby said. “You go from 200,000 PCs to two Windows Golden Images, hosted on a cloud, deliver the user product to two virtual machines and stream them to users.” A Golden Image is the master image of a software package.

Startup vendor MokaFive already offers this capability.

Virtualization is key to enabling any time, any where computing, but enterprise IT should remember that it is just a tool, Crosby warned. “The mantra for IT is application delivery,” he said. “Virtualization is just a useful feature set.”

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