The evolution of the virtual appliance marketplace

Back in the days of BEA WebLogic, the virtual appliance marketplace was still on the fringe of IT. But virtual appliances are finally catching on.

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Back in 2007, I was fortunate enough to beta test one of the early virtual appliances, BEA Systems' WebLogic Server Virtual Edition, and speak about it at both BEAWorld and VMworld 2007.

Unfortunately, the marketplace did not embrace the cutting-edge technology of virtual appliances three years ago. Maybe they were too advanced, because virtualization was still very new to many organizations. In the case of WebLogic Server Virtual Edition (WLS-VE), it was also hampered by a poorly developed pricing model.

Since then, however, the virtual appliance marketplace has become more mature. Let's take a look at its evolution and how virtual appliances can help your organization.

What are virtual appliances?
Virtual appliances package the operating system and the services it provides into a single entity that is easy to configure and even easier to use. They run as a virtual machine (VM) on a hypervisor, but these appliances are much like your home Internet router: designed to be installed and then administered through a Web interface.

Virtualization abstracts the operating system from the hardware, and virtual appliances provide additional value by abstracting the operating system from the services it provides. Virtual appliances can provide a high degree of value in a VM with very little management overhead.

Innovators in the virtual appliance marketplace
BEA was an early pioneer of virtual appliances. Led by innovative thinkers like Guy Churchward, BEA developed WLS-VE.

The traditional WebLogic Server required you to configure dedicated hardware, install and maintain an operating system, install and configure the software and then deploy an application. With WLS-VE, you simply told the administration server to create X number of application servers and to deploy application Y to those servers.

The WebLogic Administration Server then used the VMware ESX Server API to create the necessary VMs with a stripped-down OS that was just big enough to run WLS-VE. These virtual appliances could then take advantage of High Availability, Distributed Resource Scheduler, VMotion and other ESX features -- creating a very agile and efficient application environment.

The virtual appliance marketplace today
Over the past three years, virtual appliances have become commonplace, with many vendors embracing them as a method for deploying management tools, security devices and other offerings with a click of a button and configuring them from a simple Web page.

Many of VMware's own management tools are now distributed as virtual appliances. And more companies are entering the virtual appliance marketplace. One of these companies is VMTurbo, the creator of a series of tools that assist in the management and automating of key processes in a virtual environment.

"There is not much that an administrator has to do to get it up and running," said John Gannon, who does product marketing and business development for VMTurbo.

It is this simplicity and efficiency that is leading more organizations to explore the virtual appliance marketplace. I already use virtual appliances from a number of vendors, and I am even looking into tools like VMware Studio to package some of our internal applications as virtual appliances.

There are also rumors that Oracle (which acquired BEA in 2008) may reintroduce a virtual appliance similar to the original WLS-VE. If that is true, I am excited to think about how it could play into vSphere, taking advantage of features like vApps and automation tools to truly respond to real-time conditions.

About the author
Mark Vaughn (MBA, VCP, BEA-CA) serves as an enterprise architect for a multinational corporation. Vaughn has more than 14 years of experience in IT as a Unix administrator, developer, Web hosting administrator, IT manager and enterprise architect. For several years, he has focused on using the benefits of virtualization to consolidate data centers, reduce total cost of ownership, and implement policies for high availability and disaster recovery. Vaughn is a recipient of the 2009 vExpert award and has delivered several presentations at VMworld and BEAWorld conferences in the U.S. and Europe. Read his blog at http://blog.mvaughn.us.

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