I connect the technical community to virtualization technology and the people behind it and, in this case, the ones way out in front and screaming about it!
Enter Alessandro Perilli, the Internet's most well-known virtualization evangelist and author of the popular virtualization.info blog. I recently interviewed Perilli about such things as the next big thing in the virtualization arena, what Xen has to do to compete with VMware and the best place to learn more about virtualization.
Andrew Kutz: You are one of the most well known evangelists of virtualization on the Internet today, but your roots are in information technology security. What is your take on the relationship between information technology security and virtualization?
Alessandro Perilli: Being a security professional means, among other things, dealing with a lot of different platforms, multi-tier products and networking devices. Think about testing a new exploit against several kinds of Windows or Linux operating systems. Or, think about testing features in a network intrusion detection system. The simplest scenario would involve an attacking platform, a target one and a firewall in the middle. Setting up a laboratory can be very expensive and you need a lot of time to restart from scratch before beginning to test a new scenario.
When I saw virtualization for the first time I immediately understood that I would be able to create a security lab in a box without much effort, cutting away reinstallation times. I also immediately felt that virtualization could be used for some security purposes, like sandboxing and honeypotting. So it soon became the mandatory companion of my security toolbox.
Kutz: What is your take on the current state of virtualization?
Perilli: I believe it's evident that modern virtualization is still in its infancy. We still have to solve fundamental problems in implementation and support, and I think it's natural we are still concentrating on obvious applications of the technology, like server consolidation, which might not be the best applications of the technology for every customer.
I don't see big changes within one year from now. Some vendors have still to prove that their virtualization platforms are fast and reliable enough; others have still to prove that their virtualization tools are useful; and others still have to provide product support in virtual environments. This is a slow process that won't substantially change within one year.
Kutz: What's coming in virtualization after this year?
Perilli: Within three years, or probably five, virtualization solutions will be more evolved and will start to offer experimental data center automation. I imagine scenarios in which, for example, virtual machines clone themselves and enable load sharing when performances go under a certain service-level agreement; or virtual machines invoke a snapshot when a network attack is detected, then send the attacker's hard disk modifications to the security department.
In the interim, I believe virtualization is the path to something bigger than what today's security vendors abusively call a self-defending network. It's something I would rather call an adaptive data center. In this picture, today's vendors, offering so-called virtual lab automation solutions, will be key players tomorrow.
Kutz: I am a fan of open source software. What needs to happen for Xen to become a viable alternative to VMware in the eyes of IT managers everywhere?
Perilli: As of today, Xen has two problems. First of all, it [lacks and] has to offer Microsoft Windows support. We know that's about to happen this year, thanks to hardware aid from AMD and Intel. Second, Xen has to provide management tools that permit more customers to embrace Xen paravirtualization, even with limited knowledge of Linux. In this case, there are companies like XenSource, Virtual Iron and, recently, Enomaly, that are offering or are going to offer solutions in this direction.
A third critical point would be pushing the market to officially support Xen paravirtualized infrastructures. Without wide support from application vendors, there are few chances that companies can seriously consider Xen adoption.
Kutz: Application virtualization is obviously hot. In your opinion, where does it fit in the bigger picture?
Perilli: I think application virtualization is a fundamental companion of server virtualization. In everyday duties, end users need to address application compatibility, co-existence, testing and portability issues. Application virtualization is much more suitable to solve these problems than server virtualization because, in some sense, it is simpler and faster to use, it requires fewer resources and it has a lower impact on performances.
Although server virtualization will fill data center needs, application virtualization will satisfy requirements in the client area.
Kutz: If an IT professional wants to learn about virtualization, where does he or she start?
Perilli: When I started approaching virtualization, there were neither books nor vendor courses. [Even] today, I strongly believe there is a significant lack of training material. I learned a huge amount of things by following newsgroups for years.
Today, the most precious source of knowledge and real-world case studies is the community. My suggestion is to read books you find regarding the product you need to learn about. But never forget to carefully monitor all Web forums, newsgroups and blogs out there covering virtualization. There is no book updated enough or complete enough to offer you that same level of broad knowledge.