Hot on the tail of the announcement that VMware and Novell are entering into a deeper “strategic partnership” in order to deliver and support SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) for VMware vSphere environments, was an interesting blog post from Stu (@vinternals) titled “Enter the Appliance.”
Now, before we get to Stu’s post, let’s look at the language from the press release (the emphasis is mine):
VMware and Novell today announced an expansion to their strategic partnership with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) agreement through which VMware will distribute and support the SUSE® Linux Enterprise Server operating system. Under the agreement, VMware also intends to standardize its virtual appliance-based product offerings on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Customers who want to deploy SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for VMware® in VMware vSphere™ virtual machines will be entitled to receive a subscription to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server that includes patches and updates as part of their newly purchased qualifying VMware vSphere license and Support and Subscription. Under this agreement, VMware and its extensive network of solution provider partners will also be able to offer customers the option to purchase technical support for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server delivered directly by VMware for a seamless support experience. This expanded relationship between VMware and Novell benefits customers by reducing the cost and complexity of deploying and maintaining an enterprise operating system with VMware solutions.
As a result of this expanded collaboration, both companies intend to provide customers the ability to port their SUSE Linux-based workloads across clouds. Such portability will deliver choice and flexibility for VMware vSphere customers and is a significant step forward in delivering the benefits of seamless cloud computing.
Several VMware products are already distributed and deployed as virtual appliances. A virtual appliance is a pre-configured virtual machine that packages an operating system and application into a self-contained unit that is easy to deploy, manage and maintain. Standardizing virtual appliance-based VMware products on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for VMware® will further simplify the deployment and ongoing management of these solutions, shortening the path to ROI.
What I read here is that VMware virtual appliances — those VMware products packaged as virtual appliances distributed by VMware — will utilized SLES as the underlying operating system of choice. I don’t see language or the inference that other virtual appliance ISVs will be required to do so
To that point, Stu’s blog post said:
VMware will be adopting SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, SLES, as the single platform for their virtual appliances.
I’ve ranted in the past about the problem with virtual appliances. Everything from the lack of a standard Linux platform even within a single vendor (let alone amongst multiple vendors), to the additional overhead such a model of software distribution would place upon software vendors, to the security needs of the Enterprise around patch response times etc. And today, every single one of those arguments has been nullified in one fell swoop. Hallelujah, someone was listening after all!
So far, so good. Seems pretty much in-line with what VMware said.
Here’s the interesting assertion Stu makes that inspired my commentary:
If you’re a software vendor looking to adopt the virtual appliance model to distribute your wares then I have some advice for you – if you’re not using SLES for the base of your appliance, start doing so. Now. This partnership will mean doors that were previously closed to virtual appliances will now be opened, but not to any old virtual appliance – it will need to be built on an Enterprise grade distro. And SLES is most certainly that.
Chris Wolf, Stu and I had a bit of banter on Twitter regarding this announcement wherein I suggested there’s a blurring of the lines and a conflation of messaging as well as a very unique perspective that’s not being discussed.
Specifically, I don’t see where it was implied that ISV’s would be forced to adopt SLES as their OS of choice for virtual appliances. I’m not suggesting it’s not compelling to do so for the support and distribution reasons stated above, but I suggest that the notion that “…doors that were previously closed to virtual appliances” from the perspective of support and uniformity of disto will also have and equal and opposite effect caused by a longer development lifecycle for many vendors.
Especially networking and security ISVs looking to move their products into a virtual appliance offering.
I summed up many of the issues associated with virtual security and networking appliances in my Four Horsemen of the Virtualization Security Apocalypse presentation, and given how the definition and capabilities of “the network” are (d)evolving (depending upon how you view abstraction) you might also find Where Are the Network Virtual Appliances? Hobbled By the Virtual Network, That’s Where… an interesting read:
What does this mean? It means that ultimately to ensure their own survival, virtualization and cloud providers will depend less upon virtual appliances and add more of the basic connectivity AND security capabilities into the VMMs themselves as its the only way to guarantee performance, scalability, resilience and satisfy the security requirements of customers. There will be new generations of protocols, APIs and control planes that will emerge to provide for this capability, but this will drive the same old integration battles we’re supposed to be absolved from with virtualization and Cloud.
Tell me that’s not what’s happening *right* now.
Unlike most user-facing or service-delivery applications that are not topology sensitive (that is, they simply expect to be able to speak to “the network” without knowing anything about it,) network and security ISVs do very interesting things with drivers and kernel-space code in order to deal with topology, where they sit in the stack, and how they improve performance and stability that are extremely dependent upon direct access to hardware or at the very least, customer drivers or extended/hacked kernels.
One of the reasons you see a slow trickle of network and security virtual appliances is because of these bespoke OS builds and what virtualization has done to how these services are delivered, scaled and deal with resilience. We’ve already seen the challenge of ISVs having to re-write code to fit the VMsafe fast/slow-path driver model.
You can imagine the consternation involved if what Stu alluded to is actually required — that you must build your virtual appliances on a specific OS. It’s going to slow down innovation and delivery of solutions if the ISV does not (for any number of valid reasons) use SLES. This is also one of the downsides of a JEOS approach.
Stu’s warnings about compliance to SLES development notwithstanding, this puts ISVs in a delicate position — one they’ve faced before but is now exacerbated by virtualization and Cloud. Security vendors generally minimize and harden OS stacks to fit their “application” and then tune the environment accordingly. We’re already introducing new monocultures and uniformity in attack surfaces with hypervisors. Are we going to do the same with the operating systems that power the virtual appliances/virtual machines that run atop them — especially those designed to protect these very systems?
Diversity is a good thing — at least when it comes to your networking and security infrastructure. While I happen to work for a networking vendor, we all recognize that uniformity brings huge benefits as well as the potential for nasty concerns. If you want an example, check out how a simple software error affected tens of millions of users of WordPress (WordPress and the dark side of multitenancy.) While we’re talking about a different layer in the stack, the issue is the same.
I totally grok the standardization argument for the cost control, support and manageability reasons Stu stated but I am also fearful of the extreme levels of lock-in and monoculture this approach can take.