Welcome!

Containers Expo Blog Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Containers Expo Blog

@CloudExpo: Article

Two Views of Virtualization: Does It Mean the End of the OS?

Within or outside the OS - what does the Virtualization future hold?

Scott Lowe's Blog

There appear to be basically two views on how virtualization will affect the future development of operating systems and computing environments in the personal computing space. One camp believes that virtualization functionality will be present within the operating system. The other camp believes it will be outside the operating system, perhaps in the form of a hypervisor or thin virtualization layer that resides “below” the OS and governs access to hardware.


There appear to be basically two views on how virtualization will affect the future development of operating systems and computing environments in the personal computing space. One camp believes that virtualization functionality will be present within the operating system. Whether that virtualization functionality comes bundled with the operating system or is a third-party add-on to the operating system is, quite frankly, irrelevant to this particular discussion. The other camp believes that virtualization will be outside the operating system, perhaps in the form of a hypervisor or thin virtualization layer that resides “below” the OS and governs access to hardware. Again, the discussion of whether this virtualization layer comes bundled with the hardware or comes from a third-party vendor is an interesting discussion (and one that I’d like to have), but is not relevant right at this moment.

My discussions of application agnosticism puts me in the camp that places virtualization functionality in the operating system. On the desktop side (not speaking of servers here), that kind of makes sense to me. It seems to me that the simplest approach - placing virtualization functionality within the operating system - is likely to be the approach that most people will accept. We have to keep in mind that millions of users out there are not nearly as technical as we are, and for them simple is good. It may not be the most technologically advanced approach but rather the simpler approach that wins out (especially on the consumer side).

Now, having said all that, I’d like to take a closer look at the alternate approach to having virtualization placed within the operating system. In this scenario, there is virtualization functionality that sits below the idea of today’s general purpose OS. For those of you familiar with ESX Server, think of it that way - some sort of bare metal virtualization layer that controls the hardware. From there, a collection of VMs will cooperatively provide the various services that are today provided by the general purpose OS. This idea is expressed in this article by Ron Oglesby (also linked to by this VMTN Blog entry as well).

In this approach, you might have a networking VM that is responsible for scanning inbound and outbound traffic, managing security policies, interacting with corporate networks and network access controls, etc. You can think of this as the “firewall” component of the general purpose OS (Windows Firewall on Windows, ipfw on Mac OS X, iptables on Linux), but more feature-rich and more isolated (the idea being that it is therefore more secure and harder to bypass or disable). Likewise, you might have a VM designed specifically for running sensitive corporate applications, a VM for surfing the Internet, and a VM that provides anti-virus services to the other VMs. Taken individually, none of these VMs could replace today’s general purpose OS; taken as a whole, the collection of VMs provides the services and functionality of a general purpose OS, but with greater isolation, encapsulation, and protection between these “service” VMs.

Is this a viable approach? Not today, in my opinion, but certainly in the future. (To be completely fair, Ron’s article was written in the context of the long-term impact of virtualization, so we can’t really look at today’s feasibility.) As Intel and AMD continue to add virtualization support in hardware and performance draws nearer to “native” performance, this definitely becomes a more viable approach. A couple questions persist in my mind, though:

  • What is the mechanism whereby a user adds new functionality to their computing environment, i.e., how does a user add a new service VM?
  • What kind of mechanism or tools are provided to the user to help manage, operate, or configure these service VMs?

Let’s say that the user’s “normal” working environment exists in a VM that runs Windows, Linux, or the like. We’ll call this VM-Home. From VM-Home, the user needs to be able to access the functionality of a networking/firewall VM (we’ll call this VM-FW) and a corporate applications VM (we’ll call this VM-Corp). How does the user go about switching between these VMs, like between VM-Home and VM-Corp? Does each VM provide its own windowing environment? How is switching between these windowing environments handled? Is there a common windowing environment provided by the virtualization layer? Is there some internal networking connectivity between VM-Home and VM-FW that allows the user to manage the VM-FW functionality? Where does the user go, or what program does the user run, to add a new VM (say, an anti-virus VM) to his/her environment?

“Scott, stop being so picky,” you say. “This is all being talked about in theory, anyway. It’s not like we need to have all the answers right now.”

You’re right, we don’t. But as we look at how these questions may be answered (someone’s got to answer them sometime), it seems that we’ll need to add some functionality to the virtualization layer in order to make it easier/more seamless to switch between the VM environments. Users will want a seamless UI to work with, so we may need to add a windowing environment to the virtualization layer. Either that or we’ll have to enable some sort of mechanism whereby other VMs can display windows inside another VM, and now we’re breaking down the isolation/protection boundaries that we originally found to be desirable. Users will want to be able to copy and paste between the VM environments, so we’ll need to add that functionality to the virtualization layer. Users will want to be able to double-click an icon and have it launch in the appropriate VM environment, so now we’ve got to add some links and communications channels between the various VM components in our computing solution. As each of these pieces of functionality is added, the virtualization layer starts to look more like a general purpose OS—just one that’s leaner, meaner, and free of years of legacy code.

As this virtualization layer starts to resemble a general purpose OS and as the general purpose OS starts to incorporate technologies such as virtualization, application-specific subsystems, and the like, these two start to look a lot like each other. That brings us back to a central question in this discussion, a question I asked when I first started discussing the future of the OS:

So I guess the future of the operating system depends on your perspective. If you’re an operating system guy, you’ll say that the OS has a bright future, and point to developments such as built-in paravirtualization and bundled hypervisors to prove your point. If you’re a virtualization guy, you’ll say that the OS is dead, and you’ll point to developments such as third-party paravirtualization and independent hypervisors to prove your point. Which of these two is correct?

Indeed! Which approach do you think desktop computing will take? Application agnosticism, in which virtualization and other technologies are placed within the operating system, or groups of virtual machines (“VM cooperatives”? “VM federations”? “OS agnosticism”? Need a fancy marketing term again…) coordinated by a hardware/firmware virtualization layer?

What do you think?

 

More Stories By Scott Lowe

Scott Lowe is a senior engineer with ePlus, a local reseller/VAR in Raleigh, NC, where he specializes in server virtualization, storage, and related enterprise technologies. He has been in the IT field for more than 15 years, starting out with desktop support. Along the way, he has worked as an instructor, a technical trainer and Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), systems administrator, IT manager, and as Chief Technology Officer for a small start-up.

Comments (2)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
CloudEXPO has been the M&A capital for Cloud companies for more than a decade with memorable acquisition news stories which came out of CloudEXPO expo floor. DevOpsSUMMIT New York faculty member Greg Bledsoe shared his views on IBM's Red Hat acquisition live from NASDAQ floor. Acquisition news was announced during CloudEXPO New York which took place November 12-13, 2019 in New York City.
BMC has unmatched experience in IT management, supporting 92 of the Forbes Global 100, and earning recognition as an ITSM Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader for five years running. Our solutions offer speed, agility, and efficiency to tackle business challenges in the areas of service management, automation, operations, and the mainframe.
Apptio fuels digital business transformation. Technology leaders use Apptio's machine learning to analyze and plan their technology spend so they can invest in products that increase the speed of business and deliver innovation. With Apptio, they translate raw costs, utilization, and billing data into business-centric views that help their organization optimize spending, plan strategically, and drive digital strategy that funds growth of the business. Technology leaders can gather instant recomm...
In an age of borderless networks, security for the cloud and security for the corporate network can no longer be separated. Security teams are now presented with the challenge of monitoring and controlling access to these cloud environments, at the same time that developers quickly spin up new cloud instances and executives push forwards new initiatives. The vulnerabilities created by migration to the cloud, such as misconfigurations and compromised credentials, require that security teams t...
The platform combines the strengths of Singtel's extensive, intelligent network capabilities with Microsoft's cloud expertise to create a unique solution that sets new standards for IoT applications," said Mr Diomedes Kastanis, Head of IoT at Singtel. "Our solution provides speed, transparency and flexibility, paving the way for a more pervasive use of IoT to accelerate enterprises' digitalisation efforts. AI-powered intelligent connectivity over Microsoft Azure will be the fastest connected pat...
AI and machine learning disruption for Enterprises started happening in the areas such as IT operations management (ITOPs) and Cloud management and SaaS apps. In 2019 CIOs will see disruptive solutions for Cloud & Devops, AI/ML driven IT Ops and Cloud Ops. Customers want AI-driven multi-cloud operations for monitoring, detection, prevention of disruptions. Disruptions cause revenue loss, unhappy users, impacts brand reputation etc.
As you know, enterprise IT conversation over the past year have often centered upon the open-source Kubernetes container orchestration system. In fact, Kubernetes has emerged as the key technology -- and even primary platform -- of cloud migrations for a wide variety of organizations. Kubernetes is critical to forward-looking enterprises that continue to push their IT infrastructures toward maximum functionality, scalability, and flexibility. As they do so, IT professionals are also embr...
@CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX, two of the most influential technology events in the world, have hosted hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors since our launch 10 years ago. @CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX New York and Silicon Valley provide a full year of face-to-face marketing opportunities for your company. Each sponsorship and exhibit package comes with pre and post-show marketing programs. By sponsoring and exhibiting in New York and Silicon Valley, you reach a full complement of decision makers and buyers in ...
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settl...