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Virtualization: Key To Linux Future Or Linux Killer?

As Dell and Hewlett-Packard talk of peaceful coexistence, VMware hints that virtual machines could be the end of operating systems.

Linux and virtual machines already work together closely, but more needs to be done in virtualization to drive even greater adoption of Linux on PCs and in data centers.

Dell CTO Kevin Kettler, speaking at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, said virtualization must become easier to use. Dell researchers are working on embedding a hypervisor, the program that provides a VM environment, in a server flash drive. "The overall benefit is time to boot--ready to go--and the management of these servers," Kettler said.

Kettler demonstrated multiple operating systems--Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, Windows Vista, and Windows XP--running on a Dell OptiPlex 745. Dell used the XenSource hypervisor to create the VMs used in that scenario. Kettler simultaneously ran Mozilla's Firefox browser in its own VM, as a business might do for security reasons. Also running on a separate VM was a computer-assisted design program.

Don't blink: Kettler shows hypervisor in a flash -- Photo by Photo Group

Don't blink: Kettler shows hypervisor in a flash

Photo by Photo Group
Such versatility, Kettler said, is "the future of computing on the business client." Application management and security will have to be hassle free, he added, as will the ability to create VMs as needed. Dell's hypervisor ultimately could be included with Dell servers to give customers high-performance virtualization out of the box, though Dell gave no time frame for delivering the capability.

"Innovation has just begun" in virtualization, Hewlett-Packard executive VP Ann Livermore predicted at the conference. "This is an area where you'll see whole sets of services and services companies."

Virtualization is one of several areas that need improvement for Linux to make more headway in data centers, Livermore said. Others include power and cooling, management, security, and automation. HP has been developing and acquiring technology to create what Livermore called "self-managing" data centers. Last month, HP disclosed plans to buy data center automation specialist Opsware for $1.6 billion.

HP last week announced it has contributed its Parallel Compositing Library software to the open source community. The software enables the visualization of complex data sets within high-performance computing environments.

HP also extended its pay-per-use pricing model to Linux running on HP Integrity servers. HP-UX, Windows, and OpenVMS already are available under that licensing program.

EMC subsidiary VMware offers a variety of VM management services, including dynamic balancing and resource allocation as well as centralized backup software. More services are coming, chief scientist and co-founder Mendel Rosenblum said at LinuxWorld. A new feature in beta test, already available on VMware software for workstations, records the execution of a server on a virtual machine for replay later.

Rosenblum suggested that virtualization eventually could make operating systems, including Linux, obsolete. He favors an architecture in which a virtualization layer is tied directly to the microprocessor and other computer hardware. Running on top would be virtual machines for specific applications. Such an approach would be more reliable and secure, easier to manage, and better performing, he said.

Virtualization appliances are the ideal architecture, Rosenblum said. Software makers can package only the components needed to run a particular application within a virtual machine. "I can take out parts of the OS I don't need for this application, and build an OS that's highly optimized for the application," he said.

Linux is the best option for building software-specific VMs because open source licensing terms are more flexible than proprietary software, Rosenblum said. Essentially, there are no royalties to pay with Linux, and users can mold the software to fit their purposes.

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