It's A Virtual World

Anybody who is the least bit worried that innovation has somehow died in IT need look no further than the virtualization space.
Anybody who is the least bit worried that innovation has somehow died in IT need look no further than the virtualization space.

As an industry, we've been talking about virtualization in earnest for the last few years, mostly as a tool to gain greater hardware efficiency, and most notably in the form of the tools provided by VMware, a unit of EMC, that allow multiple operating systems to run on a single machine.

But as previously noted in this Weblog (see Virtual Vanguard), other companies are gearing up to challenge VMware's dominance of the dialogue in this space. A previous entry on this topic focused on the efforts of Scott Davis, who will serve as CTO and president of a startup company, initially called Katana, which is scheduled to formally launch next month. Katana promises to deliver software that not only allows multiple operating systems to run on the same processor, but also allows users to seamlessly run that operating system across any number of processors distributed around the network.

Since that entry, Bill Coleman, the founder of BEA Systems, has announced the formation of Cassatt. Coleman's vision is to leverage technology originally developed for Cray supercomputers to create a layer of virtualization software for both Windows and Linux that provides a foundation for automated server provisioning and distributed application management that, within one year, will do everything that IBM is promising to do over the next half decade. If Coleman and crew are able to execute on that vision, then running multiple operating systems on the same machine a la VMware is going to seem like a trivial accomplishment.

But Cassatt isn't the only company in the space worth paying attention to. While there are a number of open-source projects trying to replicate what VMware has created, one other company that is making progress replicating VMware on a Linux environment is Qlusters. Headed by CEO David Martin, Qlusters not only provides the ability to run multiple copies of Linux on the same machine, but it also has tools for automatically provisioning servers and near-instant failover for maintaining business continuity. And what makes Qlusters even more interesting are its plans to begin to extend its software tools to support Windows in the second half of this year.

None of these companies have gone without notice at IBM, which has developed some kind of relationship with VMware, Cassatt and Qlusters. HP also has relationships with Qlusters and VMware. But what will be interesting is to see how companies such as Symantec/Veritas, Oracle, BEA, SAP and the rest of the software community line up as virtualization moves beyond being simply a way to maximize hardware.

Naturally, it's too early to tell who will ultimately come out on top, and more than likely companies such as Katana, Cassatt and Qlusters are going to be acquired by the big vendors or even have much of their work subsumed into future processor architectures from Intel and AMD.

But one thing is for sure. The companies that get the inside track on this space are going to lead the coming age of utility computing. This is because, in combination with each other, these tools allow IT organizations to essentially create a whole new layer of abstraction between the applications and the systems they run on. This means that, ultimately, hardware will increasingly be a disposable commodity running underneath a set of application components that can be reconfigured anywhere and in any manner on the network. And once that happens, the long-sought-after dream of have applications and IT systems that bend to the business--rather than making the business bend to IT--may finally be realized.

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Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
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Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer