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Who Invented Virtualization?

A Sure Bar Bet Winner

VAA on Ulitzer

We've all been there.  Minding our own business in a local establishment, when a discussion's heat rises to the level of a sporting bet.  Sides are chosen, money plunked down, combatants await the reveal.  Other than adult beverages, the thing these bets seem to have in common is that the winning fact generally runs against commonly held assumptions.

Here's a winner for you:

Q:  What company "invented" virtualization technology?

A:  The long defunct Burroughs Corporation first brought mainframe virtualization to market in the 1960s.  But it was not until the then laggard IBM brought it to their 360 line in the 1970s that the concept was legitimized.

I'm willing to make this little bet with you:  Most people of a certain age are more than willing to bet folding green that IBM ‘invented' virtualization.  Gen-any-letters will bet VMware with confidence.  You will win either way.

Today's burgeoning virtualization market is a different story.  And in that story, VMware is the dad.


Greg O'Connor at the AppZero booth during 4th International Cloud Computing Conference & Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. The largest Cloud Expo to date attracted more than 2,200 delegates from over 47 countries.

Phase 1 - Core virtualization infrastructure

Founded in 1998, VMware ruled the virtualization roost free of competition, growing to $1 billion revenue in record-breaking time.  So the hypervisor entered mainstream IT.  Competition from open source Xen and Microsoft's Hyper-V fuels innovation and evolution in the virtualization category.  Regardless of vendor flavor, today's hypervisor comes in two forms:

  • Native - hypervisor software runs directly on a host's hardware acting as a hardware controller and a monitor of guest operating systems. The hypervisor is a layer of abstraction that separates the hardware and the guest operating systems.
  • Hosted - hypervisor software runs within a conventional OS as a distinct software layer. Guest OS run at the third level above the hardware.

The over-provisioning of servers that otherwise commonly run at less than 10% utilization in datacenters means that Hypervisors are cost-slashing, server consolidating no brainers.  But they are not a panacea.

Enter server sprawl.  Questions of security and compliance, mobility and maintenance.... Real life.

Phase 2 - Management virtualization infrastructure

So a whole marketplace springs up to surround the virtualization world with tools and capabilities to exploit the potential, fill in the blanks, shore up the weaknesses, and counteract the unintended side-effects of the proliferating technology.  It's an exciting phase bursting with startups and speculation, market confusion, and acquisitions.

Companies start-up to monitor, automate, optimize, and otherwise manage this complex frontier, eager to make their marks before VMware wakes to their niche.  In the meantime, the usual suspects BMC, CA, HP and IBM's Tivoli mix invention with acquisition to round out their traditional strengths mapping to datacenter and cloud realities.  Back in the general market, every vendor is slapping the word "Cloud" onto their offerings whether hot off the press or dating from the Paleolithic Age.

Phase 3 - Paradigm virtualization enablement

When a new technology opens new frontiers, innovators are quick to see, exploit, and exhaust the potential.  Virtualization has entered this phase as Hypervisor technology and its phase 2 outgrowths have reached their natural limits.  Case in point: server-side application virtualization.

It was both clever and natural for innovators to leap upon accepted hypervisor technology to virtualize applications.  Hence we have the virtual machine (VM) derivative, the virtual appliance (VA), which packages an application with all of its dependencies and only the itiest, bitiest, piece of OS absolutely necessary to get the job done.  Pragmatists charged with virtualizing server applications using a tool designed to virtualize server hardware, enabled the workaround with the concept of "Just-enough OS" - JeOS.

Marketing kudos not withstanding, any OS is too much OS when it comes to virtualizing server-side applications for complete mobility to and from and around the clouds and datacenters that make up a dynamic IT environment.  I can't say it any better than Chris Hoff did in his September 25th Rational Survivability blog entitled "Incomplete Thought: Virtual Machines are the Problem, Not the Solution".  Speaking of VMs, he says:

"There's still a pile of crap inside ‘em.

What do I mean?

There's a bloated, parasitic resource-gobbling cancer inside every VM.  For the most part, it's the real reason we even have mass market virtualization today.

It's called the operating system."

Asking, "But wait, isn't server virtualization the answer to that?", Chris goes on to answer:

"The approach we've taken today is that VMM/Hypervisor abstracts the hardware from the OS.  The applications are still stuck on top of operating systems that don't provide much in the way of any benefit given the emergence of development frameworks/languages such as J2EE, PHP, Ruby, .NET, etc. that were built around the notions of decoupled, distributed, and mashable application ‘fabrics'.

Every ship travels with an anchor, in the case of the VM it's the OS. [emphasis mine]"

Beautiful.  AppZero is not an extension of the hypervisor technology.  It is a new paradigm inspired and legitimized by that market's growth, enabled by distinctive and different technology.

With it, you can create one gold image of an application - or a piece of an application, like SQLServer or Oracle DB -- and then provision it to many server instances in a data center .... Or numerous data centers; to many server instances in private or public clouds, disaster recovery sites ...

One gold image - so many destinations.  How is that possible?

Because in the AppZero paradigm, there is no - zero - zilch - no trace whatsoever of any OS component.

Anchors away.

More Stories By Greg O'Connor

Greg O'Connor is President & CEO of AppZero. Pioneering the Virtual Application Appliance approach to simplifying application-lifecycle management, he is responsible for translating Appzero's vision into strategic business objectives and financial results.

O'Connor has over 25 years of management and technical experience in the computer industry. He was founder and president of Sonic Software, acquired in 2005 by Progress Software (PRGS). There he grew the company from concept to over $40 million in revenue.

At Sonic, he evangelized and created the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) product category, which is generally accepted today as the foundation for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Follow him on Twitter @gregoryjoconnor.

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