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Virtualization community responds to ESX Lite rumor

In case you missed it, reported last week that VMware is developing an embedded “ESX Lite” hypervisor. And while VMware may have opted not to comment about it, the virtualization community has plenty to say on the topic. For one, Bob Plankers, over at The Lone Sysadmin thinks that ESX Lite could save him money on server hardware:

So you have an ESX server that doesn’t need local disk. That saves you $300 for a RAID controller and about $300 per 15K RPM 146 GB disk. For my RAID 1 + hot spare configurations that’s $1200. No moving parts equals theoretical better reliability, though flash drives have a limit to the number of read/write operations they can do over their lifetime. Also very little power consumption, and very little heat. Without all the extra heat from the disks you can reduce the number of fans in the chassis, which further reduces the price and power draw.

I for one, totally agree with this assessment. Spinning disk drives inside a server are a major bummer. Since the vast majority of ESX instances are already SAN-attached, why not go all the way and ditch the internal boot drives?

The flipside, said Fred Peterson, a system administrator writing on the VMTN message board, is that an ESX Lite appliance could not be reused like general purpose hardware:

Once it becomes “out dated” it has to be tossed, you wouldn’t be able to re-use as a test windows box or linux box or something. While not a bad thing, its life span to justify the upfront cost would have to be pretty good.

Over at MindSecure, a blog about “information security, virtualization, application delivery and storage,” ESX Lite is paired with Citrix Ardence, an OS streaming application, to positive effect.

Embedding ESX Lite in the hardware and using Ardence to stream the operating system would allow for complete hardware abstraction at the server and desktop level as well as the ability to remove spinning disk from servers and desktops, use solid state storage strictly on these devices, reduce storage utilization by using Ardence shared images, reduce cooling costs in the data center by using less disk, and many other advantages which these two solutions provide when paired together.

Scott Lowe on his blog says that ESX Lite has interesting competitive implications:

It’s smart because it derails Microsoft’s attempts to marginalize the hypervisor by bundling it with the operating system (via Windows Server Virtualization, aka “Viridian”). It’s smart because it expands the hypervisor market in new directions that no one else has yet tapped, helping VMware retain mindshare about its technical leadership and innovation. It’s smart because it’s the hardware vendors that have the most to lose via virtualization, and by partnering with them you remove potential future opponents.

But it’s a strategy that his his risks, he points out, namely, if the embedded hypervisor doesn’t perform as well as regular ESX, or if VMware loses visibility by going too deep under the hood.

Meanwhile, rumor has it the the original story has some inaccuracies in it, but like the old advertising saying (“I know half my advertising dollars are wasted – I just don’t know which half!” ), without official word, I can’t speculate as to what’s right and what isn’t. An obvious possibility is that Dell is not participating with ESX Lite, or that the effort is not limited to just Dell. My gut tells me the latter is closer to the truth. Any thoughts are appreciated.

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Has anyone considered how all this hardware abstraction will affect BIOS as we know it today? It seems to me that “ESX Lite” could/should be combined with BIOS to create some kind of “AIOS”. Having a well-defined/designed environment for device manufacturers to create device drivers for, would be an incredible boost for computing in general. Something like what I’m describing is well overdue.
perceus has been doing this for a while with rapid boot. nothing new. even streams the os down.