OVF: A Standard for Virtualization's Future

Open Virtualization Format could solve key problems with virtualization deployments. It's got key vendors behind it. And it's likely to be even more important as the use of cloud computing increases. Here's why.

By Bernard Golden
Thu, January 08, 2009

CIO — Quick: What part of IT data centers operations hasn't been transformed by virtualization?

After all, server virtualization's value is well-established. Many, many companies have migrated significant percentages of their servers to virtual machines hosted on larger servers, gaining benefits in hardware utilization, energy use, and data center space. And those companies that haven't done so thus far are hatching plans to consolidate their servers in the future. These are all capital or infrastructure costs, though. What does server virtualization do for human costs—the IT operations piece of the puzzle?

Base level server consolidation offers a few benefits for IT operations. It makes hardware maintenance much easier, since virtual machines can be moved to other physical servers when it's time to maintain or repair the original server. This moves hardware maintenance from a weekend and late night effort to a part of the regular business day—certainly a great convenience.

The next step for most companies is to leverage the portability of virtual machines to achieve IT operational agility. Because virtual machines are captured in disk images, they are portable, no longer bound to an individual physical server. The ease of reproducing virtual images means that application capacity can be easily dialed up and down with the creation or tear down of additional virtual images. Server pooling allows virtual machines to be automatically migrated according to application load. More sophisticated virtualization uses include high availability, where virtual machines can be moved—automatically, by the virtualization management software itself&mdash:when hardware failures occur. Seeing the magic of a virtual machine automatically being brought up on a new server after its original host is brought down, all without any human intervention, vividly demonstrates the power of more sophisticated virtualization use.

Certainly these kinds of uses of virtualization demonstrate its power to transform IT operations, enabling IT organizations to offer the kind of responsiveness and creativity that could only be dreamed of a few years ago. The deftness with which applications can be migrated, upsized, downsized, cloned, etc. is something that will forever change the way IT does its job.

But there's one place in the entire IT operations value chain unaffected by this capability: the original installation and configuration of the app. Before you can do any of that cool stuff with a virtual machine, you have to create it. And heretofore, that has remained a manual effort, time-consuming, error-prone, and not much fun.

Of course, there are virtual appliances, which come pre-configured with software, ready to run. Their traction to date has been limited, though. One problem for them has been software licensing; there's no way to address the licensing requirements for commercial software components within them. While the end user can obtain and install a license for a virtual appliance, it's certainly not plug-and-play. For this reason, most virtual appliances to date have been open source- or evaluation copy-based.

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