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VMware exec: On free specs, virtualization's boost for Linux

VMware's Dan Chu discusses why his company decided to open up its core virtual machine disk format and how VMware hopes this will spur the development of virtual appliances.

VMware Inc. is opening up its virtual machine disk format specification, but today's news is about sharing, not open source technologies.

VMware's decision to share at no cost its format specification with developers and vendors will spur big gains in virtualization innovation, according to Dan Chu, senior director of developer/ and ISV products for VMware, an EMC company in Palo Alto, Calif. Meanwhile, says Chu in this interview, virtualization is knocking down barriers to enterprise Linux and open source software adoption.

Dan Chu, Senior director of developer/ISV products for VMware

Why did VMware decide to share its core virtual machine disk format specification?

Dan Chu: People with large enterprise environments are fully standardizing on VMware; but they also depend on a whole set of key vendors -- like BMC and Symantec -- to provide other functions to do such things as manipulate, update, patch and back up data and systems.

The virtual machine format and specification defines everything from how the application operating system is encapsulated to how it is then put onto a data file system or local or network storage. Giving unrestricted access to the core formats and interfaces and APIs around virtualization lets any developer leverage and develop on top of virtualization.

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Their innovations will make server virtualization easier to deploy and manage and more highly optimized for customers.

Before this, you would have to either reverse engineer or enter into a very proprietary license that would be restrictive and inhibit development against virtualized environments. We want to make it fully open.

This is not an open sourcing of the VMware virtual machine disk format specification. What is VMware doing in the open source area?

Chu: We are opening up the format specification of the virtual machines, but not open sourcing the code. In other areas, we do share our source code for people to work on and contribute their work back to our base. However, we are not open sourcing the code, but sharing it and providing people the ability to contribute to it. For example, our community participants are taking advantage of this to introduce a whole array of InfiniBand capabilities into VMware.

Generally, you are talking about development of proprietary applications. Does today's announcement open up any opportunities for enterprise open source application usage?

Chu: Some vendors have found that their software fits with a variety of open source products and projects, and virtual appliances are the best way to distribute and deploy their environment with this software bundled in it.

Opening up the virtual machine format and specification will promote development of virtual appliances. A virtual appliance is a fully pre-installed, pre-configured application and operating system environment that is encapsulated in a virtual machine.

The appliance with proprietary and open source software inside is easily deployable and completely integrated as a package. We've seen this, for example, in virtual appliances [containing] open source collaboration suites like Open-Xchange, open source IT PBX and great open source intrusion prevention systems.

While VMware takes a platform-agnostic approach to server virtualization, Linux proponents say that this technology will remove barriers and speed enterprise adoption of Linux. Have you seen this happening?

Chu: We actually have heard a number of Linux infrastructure managers and customers say that virtualization facilitates the adoption of Linux tremendously.

Once people have VMware, they can substantiate virtual machines for any platform. Then, people can piggyback Linux on that big Windows infrastructure without having to do a massive, up-front hardware server [implementation with] all those costs, particularly without having to buy expensive new servers. This is something that we hear about a lot.

Virtualization allows you to break down the barriers to Linux adoption because you don't have to segregate it. You don't have this sprawl of lightly- utilized Windows servers and databases and domain controllers and file and print. So, people can introduce their Linux infrastructure without having to do so through a massive budgeting or migration hurdle.

VMware hasn't faced much competition on the enterprise front from open source alternatives. Now, there's Xen. There are also new server virtualization systems from such vendors as Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc. How does that change VMware's go-to-market approach?

Chu: It doesn't. We are glad to see the enthusiasm others have for virtualization. We also think it will take a fair bit of time for those new products to get to the hardened enterprise-level functionality that customers expect from virtualization. What they have may fit some companies' needs for non-production uses on five- to- 20 servers.

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