Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, 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
Every organization is facing their own Digital Transformation as they attempt to stay ahead of the competition, or worse, just keep up. Each new opportunity, whether embracing machine learning, IoT, or a cloud migration, seems to bring new development, deployment, and management models. The results are more diverse and federated computing models than any time in our history.
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
IoT is rapidly becoming mainstream as more and more investments are made into the platforms and technology. As this movement continues to expand and gain momentum it creates a massive wall of noise that can be difficult to sift through. Unfortunately, this inevitably makes IoT less approachable for people to get started with and can hamper efforts to integrate this key technology into your own portfolio. There are so many connected products already in place today with many hundreds more on the h...
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
Charles Araujo is an industry analyst, internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. As Principal Analyst with Intellyx, he writes, speaks and advises organizations on how to navigate through this time of disruption. He is also the founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation and a sought after keynote speaker. He has been a regular contributor to both InformationWeek and CIO Insight...
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 settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...