My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together
Where Next for VMware Workstation?
I love VMware Workstation, I have used it since about 1999 when I was first introduced to virtualization and it totally revolutionised the way I did my home and work lab study and later production systems.
Since then it has always introduced new features with every version that seemed to be back-ported into the server products, as I understand it the record and replay features underpinned the code that became VMware Fault-Tolerance, and the same with linked-clones and thin-provisioning in vSphere.
There has been integration with developer environments for better debugging and I guess a lot of Workstation has gone into the Fusion product for the Mac – but it did get me thinking, where is next for Workstation – beyond the usual performance tweaks that seem to get make in every version?
What I think would be great, and it ties into my previous post on vendor hardware emulators is a pluggable hardware abstraction layer(HAL)/Driver architecture for VMware Workstation.
Workstation does a brilliant job at virtualizing x86/64 hardware and to-date that has been its primary task but I wonder if it could be expanded into a more modular architecture product to support wider development and use of other hardware platforms on x86/64.
There are many emulators available out there for developers for mobile phone chipsets, custom ASICs etc. but these are often hard to configure for the end-user and are very bespoke to the devices they are developed for.
With the amount of spare horsepower and low price-point available to commodity x86/64 hardware all it needs is a common virtualization/emulation product to unify it together and you have a very powerful product with a huge market, not only for developers but for operations people who no longer need a huge lab of bespoke hardware, mobile phones and devices to support end-users – it’s all available in a virtual machine.
Thinking slightly wider in scope, If it were also back-ported and integrated into future versions of the vSphere product line you have a very powerful back-end server product – VMware talk of the software mainframe, this is bringing what some mainframes currently do for virtualizing x86 server, but making it a MUCH wider application.
Whilst the initial pay-off would be with developer licenses rather than enterprise/large scale licensing agreements with Hyper V and Xen rapidly catching up on the Hypervisor front VMware need something cutting-edge to keep them ahead of the game, and consider the enterprise implications for this;
Lots of customers running workloads on SPARC hardware/OS – porting to x86 Solaris isn’t simple, is the cost/performance benefit still there for SPARC customers in the world of cheap and fast x64 hardware – emulating/virtualizing SPARC CPU workloads onto x64 could be a big draw for Sun customers, particularly with the Oracle acquisition and VMware targeting vSphere at large scale Oracle customers this could prove easier than porting legacy apps from SPARC in the same way virtualization has revolutionised the x86 server space.
Or an ESX cluster running a mix of x86/64, SPARC, ARM, iPhone, Set-Top Box, AS/400 virtual machine workloads – either as a test and dev, support or even production solution.
Sure, emulation has an overhead – so does virtualization but x86/64 hardware is cheap and off-the-shelf, add in a distributed ESX processing cluster (my thoughts on that here) and you could probably build something with equivalent or even better performance for less.
Interesting concept (to me anyway)… thoughts?