The DMTF accepted the draft OVF specification submitted by virtualization companies in September 2007 to create an industry-standard format for portable virtual machines (VMs). VMs packaged in this format can be installed on any virtualization platform that supports the standard, simplifying interoperability, security and VM lifecycle management for virtual infrastructure. As of Sept. 16, OVF 1.0 is available for free download.
OVF uses existing packaging tools to combine one or more VMs together with a standards-based XML wrapper, giving the virtualization platform a portable package containing all required installation and configuration parameters for the VMs. This allows any virtualization platform that implements the standard to correctly install and run virtual machines.
"From the customer perspective, being able to download the OS with all the right drivers and everything already configured is a real time saver. It moves the burden of configuration to the ISV [independent software vendor]," said Winston Bumpus, the president of DMTF. "OVF represents a real change in how virtualization will be deployed."
Chris Wolf, a senior analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said "OVF represents a good start on the road to standardizing some elements of virtual infrastructure management."
"With the [OVF] 1.0 spec, organizations will be able to package a VM along with OVF metadata and deploy that VM to any hypervisor that supports OVF. VMware ESX Server 3.5, Citrix XenServer 5, and Xen on Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 all support OVF, and other vendors will soon follow," Wolf said.
In addition, with OVF multiple VMs can be packaged together as a single service, such as a front-end Web application and a back-end database. When applications are packaged, IT administrators can also specify application and service-level requirements, Wolf explained.
"If you look to 2009, you'll start to see progress in standardizing VM runtime metadata, which will be even more useful to IT administrators," Wolf said. "Imagine that instead of having .vmx [VMware] or .vmc [Microsoft] configuration files, you just had an .ovf file, or a similar XML-based metadata file. This would allow organizations to have a consistent method to store VM metadata regardless of hypervisor and would also make it easier for third-party management products to integrate with any hypervisor that supports the DMTF's virtualization management standards."
Several management vendors are already on board with OVF, including VKernel and ManageIQ, which will ship their applications as virtual appliances packaged using OVF, Wolf said.
The companies behind the OVF specification effort include Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft Corp., VMware Inc, and Citrix Systems Inc. OVF format is already supported in several VMware products, for instance, including VirtualCenter and Virtual Infrastructure, and OVF is the foundation of vApp in the newly announced Virtual Datacenter Operating System, or VDC-OS.
VMAN virtualization management standards
Another DMTF initiative, VMAN, delivers open industry standards to the management side of virtualization.
The VMAN initiative supports interoperability and portability standards in virtual computing environments. With VMAN, IT can deploy pre-installed, preconfigured software in heterogeneous computing networks and manage those applications through their entire lifecycle.
"Environments are heterogeneous, and in lots of places very complex. Management tools and management infrastructures really need to be able to interoperate," Bumpus said. "Standards help increase choice of which products to use, they reduce costs because it increases competition and reduces development costs, and most important, standards provide interoperability."
Because DMTF builds on existing standards for server hardware, management tool vendors can create software for virtual environments in the context of the underlying hardware. This reduces the IT learning curve and the complexity for vendors implementing VMAN in their management technologies reducing IT management costs, DMTF reported.
With the technologies available to IT managers through the VMAN Initiative, companies have a standardized approach to the following tasks:
- deploying VMs
- discovery and tracking of VM inventory
- Manage VM lifecycles
- creating, modifying and deleting virtual resources
- monitoring virtual systems for health and performance
Wolf stated that the VMAN initiative could remove many VM management pain points and fuel further innovation in heterogeneous virtual infrastructures.