VMware's Executive Blog
Tue, 18 Jul 2006
On Linux Hypervisor Interoperability and Standards
Posted by Brian Byun
Virtualization is fast becoming a ubiquitous layer of software that transforms how applications are developed, deployed and managed in IT environments of all sizes. Not long ago, Diane Greene explained the need for three major areas of industry standards around virtualization that are required to support customer choice as virtualization adoption becomes pervasive. These standards will enable customers to choose their virtualization software, management tools and applications, and associated OS on merit-based criteria: quality, functionality, and price rather than traditional licensing and arbitrary vendor-specific lock-in rules.
Yesterday, Microsoft announced that they would work with XenSource to allow para-virtualized versions of Linux to run on future Windows hypervisors. Para-virtualization is an emerging technology that requires a modified guest operating system to call an API on the underlying hypervisor, in order to optimize the performance of the guest OS when it is run on a virtualization software layer. In light of this news, it's worth re-visiting some current developments in standardizing the interface between the operating system and the hypervisor.
First, let's take note of a few ironies of this recent Microsoft/XenSource arrangement:
Impact of the OS-Hypervisor Interface
This announcement gives reason to examine the impact of the OS-hypervisor interface more closely. Ideally, any hypervisor should be able to run optimally with any operating system and there should be no proprietary license required to do so. Under the announced arrangement, XenSource is licensing a Microsoft owned OS-hypervisor interface but not the other way around. Microsoft wants to make Windows run optimally only on Microsoft's hypervisor but are happy to let other operating systems such as Linux run on top of their hypervisor. Clearly Microsoft views their control point as moving to the hypervisor.
VMware hopes there will soon be a standard Linux interface for para-virtualization, which will simplify and standardize how Linux is supported on various hypervisors, including VMware and Xen. VMware is actively working with the Linux kernel community to develop an open interface so that the Linux kernel can run natively and efficiently on a choice of hypervisors. Such an interface would also be available to any operating system. VMware has made its initial proposal for such an interface available to the Linux community and is pursuing Linux and hypervisor interoperability not as a commercial arrangement, but within the open, transparent, and merit-based multi-vendor approach that is the hallmark of the Linux kernel community.
The industry is realizing that the x86 virtualization trend provides a unique point in time where customers can exercise control and freedom of choice of OS, applications, hardware vendors and virtualization stacks, and where no one vendor dominates and controls. This results in pure value-based competition and opens up a world where any OS or virtualization approach can potentially run any other OS. It's up to industry participants and customers with buying clout to fully enable this vision. In this new world, we recommend that customers demand unfettered, open standards and full bi-lateral interoperability from all your vendors before expanding or doing business with them.
In the end, I believe most customers will run their Linux distributions on hypervisors that use open standards and do not have license lock-in to proprietary interfaces. This is the approach VMware takes. Every key interoperability interface VMware implements in its products is available on license-free and open terms to its partners as well as competitors.
Stay tuned to the "virtualization standards" channel as we'll be reporting back often. Do let me know if you have comments for VMware on its approach to industry interoperability based on open standards.