VMware's Rosenblum previews future products

VMware chief scientist Mendel Rosenblum regaled a VMworld audience with a sneak preview of up-and-coming VMware technologies.

SAN FRANCISCO -- VMware Inc. chief scientist and co-founder Mendel Rosenblum led a full house to raucous applause with three demonstrations of future product capabilities that the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company may eventually bring to market.

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Speaking on the third and final day of VMworld 2007, VMware's annual conference, Rosenblum told a rapt audience that virtualization is not "some magic pixie dust that you sprinkle over the data center that makes everything run better." Instead, he showed how VMware, by applying what he called "a layer of indirection" between an operating system and hardware, will continue to solve "some of computer science's hardest problems."

VMotion for storage
One of those persistent problems is downtime. For example, Rosenblum showed how future products will leverage what he dubbed "VMotion for disks" to move not just virtual machines (VMs) but also their underlying virtual disks to different physical storage platforms while the virtual machines are still running.

[Virtualization is not] some magic pixie dust that you sprinkle over the data center that makes everything run better.
Mendel Rosenbaum,
chief scientistVMware Inc.

"Why is this interesting?" Rosenblum asked. For one thing, customers tend to lease storage, and when the lease comes up, swapping out an old for a new array "tends to involve shutting down the VMs," he said. With VMotion for disks, virtual disks could be moved in the background, without incurring any downtime. Similarly, VMotion for disks could be used to optimize virtual disk placement on a higher-performance array or a less utilized one. VMotion for disks will be storage agnostic; virtual disks migration will be possible across entirely different storage architectures, such as Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs), iSCSI SANs, or even NAS arrays.

"You can do all this because you have this level of indirection," he said.

Streaming virtual machines
Another compelling demo showed how VMware is working to improve its virtual appliance offering, which may also be applied to disaster recovery and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

In a demonstration, Rosenblum showed a virtual machine streaming capability for the download of virtual appliances (that is, virtual machines containing a preconfigured operating system and application stack).

For all its value, "even the smallest virtual appliance is really large," Rosenblum said, which, if you're waiting for it to download, "is not really ideal."

Enter virtual appliances with an InstantOn feature coupled with VMware OnDemand, a streaming manager. By prioritizing the blocks in the VM to download those blocks that are needed first, the demo indicated how a specially configured virtual appliance could be retrieved and launched in a fraction of the time of a traditional virtual appliance.

Software as a Service providers could leverage this technology to improve software delivery times in test and development environments and, quite possibly, in VDI environments. "That will probably be a big use case," said a VMware employee assisting Rosenblum with the demo.

Fault-tolerant virtual machines
But the audience reserved its most thunderous applause for a feature Rosenblum called Continuous Availability, which would give ordinary virtual machines levels of fault tolerance that have traditionally been reserved for only the most expensive server systems.

Rosenblum prefaced the final demonstration by referring to a demo he did at last year's VMworld in which he showed Record and Replay, an experimental feature in VMware Workstation. With Record and Replay, Workstation records the execution of a VM and stores these commands in a log file. When it comes time to replay, you simply take that execution log, feed it back to the VM, and the virtual machine "does exactly what it did before."

Continuous Availability would build on that idea, except that instead of storing the executions in a file, it would send them over to a secondary VM on a separate host. Then, in the event that the host of the primary VM went "poof," as Rosenblum put it, the second VM is ready to take over, and "nothing is lost."

Rosenblum and his assistant demonstrated Continuous Availability on two physical servers running Microsoft Exchange VMs in lockstep. Rosenblum pulled both plugs from the primary server, and within seconds the secondary VM had taken over without being restarted.

Scratching the surface
VMware won't stop there, Rosenblum said. "We've only just begun to benefit from virtualization," and since it's "pretty clear that this is a better way of doing things, there will be very rapid adoption."

Going forward, VMware is intent on "delivering a steady stream of innovation, so it's not just this onetime lift." With nagging problems like high availability, disaster recovery, fault tolerance,and data migration seemingly behind users, Rosenblum challenged the audience to guess what VMware would tackle next. "Let's take the problems of the past and see if we can get rid of them."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director.

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