Will Appliances Replace Standard VMs?

Put your virtual machine footprint on a diet with appliances.

This is perhaps the third part of an accidental series* on removing bloated and unwieldy operating systems (OSs) from our data centers. In exchange for our traditional fat and happy OSs, we’ll have sleek, tireless and agile workloads. It might be too early to remove years of tradition all at once, so it’s possible that the interim solution is to use appliances where full physical servers or corpulent virtual machines once proudly gobbled system resources. Appliances might be the transitional technology we’ve waited for.

For now, let’s assume that you’ve made the quantum leap from physical to virtual in your company via server consolidation and “right sizing.” You assumed that your consolidation efforts took a big bite out of your unpleasantly plump data center footprint but it hasn’t unless you trimmed the fat in the physical to virtual transition. Now you’re battling virtual machine sprawl and running into licensing issues. Do you require less disk space than before your efforts? It’s time to correct again, which brings up the question, “Will appliances replace standard VMs?”

It makes sense for software companies to deliver their applications in a “ready-to-run” state for their customers. It also makes sense for operating system vendors to license their operating systems for use as appliance cores. Do I believe that appliances are a good solution to problems related to licensing, sprawl and operating system bloat? You betcha, at least in the short term.

Licensing

Let’s face it; licensing is a pain and, with almost no exception, it’s getting worse. First, you have to purchase a license to use an operating system. Second, you have to purchase access licenses so that you can connect to the OS that you have a license for. Then, you have to purchase licenses for applications that run in the operating system. They all have different rules, restrictions and terms. Appliances would make licensing less of a pain, or so I think, because it would be licensed as a single entity. Licensing an appliance would be less like licensing an operating system and more like licensing an application. Sure, there’s an operating system attached to the appliance but the OS is only a part of the appliance not the appliance.

Sprawl

Fighting VM sprawl is easier with appliances, since they serve a singular purpose. They aren’t generic like a regular installable OS and therefore are less likely to fall victim to willy-nilly deployment. It’s easy to deploy an operating system from a template or standard ISO image, whereas properly licensed appliances require an individualized unlock code upon deployment.

Free appliances, like the ones you’re able to download from VMware’s Appliance Marketplace, (and a few other places) are still susceptible to random installation and sprawl.

Bloat

By definition, appliances are pared-down versions of your favorite overstuffed operating systems that have just enough operating system decoration to perform their appointed tasks. If you’re looking for a fat-free infrastructure, appliances are for you. For now, most appliance builders employ Linux for their core systems but I suspect that pressure from its customer base will prompt Microsoft in licensing Windows Server 2008 core for such implementations. Though I’d like to see a Windows-based appliance weigh in under the one gigabyte mark, I won’t bet my paycheck on it.

Appliances are the transitional technology between virtual machines and virtual workloads. Their smaller footprint, better licensing model and decreased propensity to sprawl make them excellent alternatives for your current portly traditional counterparts.

Have you made an effort to shrink that bulging waistline with appliances? If so, write back and tell us about your experiences.

* A Virtual OS for My Hypervisor Please and Virtualization Makes Traditional Operating Systems Obsolete

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