When engineers develop applications, they need to test for so many things, Joshi said. With an appliance, they can wrap the application and an OS in a tiny, confined package. Its a very controlled environment. It is a stable environment.
This isnt necessarily a separate track from cloud computing. One of the issues with cloud computing, especially with regards to its cousin grid computing, is that as the grid broadens, heterogeneous platforms are inevitable as are conflicts. If the point of intersection is something simple like the browser, though, those conflicts are more or less eliminated.
The fundamental thing about virtual machines is that theyre a set of files. Thats it. Theyre software. Theyre easy to move and reallocate. Hardware, on the other hand, is clunky. There are so many components you have to consider.
With virtual machines, end users have the luxury of imposing processes on top of them. If you need an additional security layer, click off a box. If you need high-availability, check another box. Were not to the point where applications and the virtual infrastructures that serve them are that nimble yet, but VMware and others in this space are getting there.
Microsoft and the Syncromesh
I should step back and mention that virtual machines dont offer VMware an end-run around Microsoft. Microsoft has been talking about distributed computing in its many guises for years.
Bill Gates made it a habit of trotting out a new Internet appliance each year for CES or Comdex back in the late nineties and early 2000s. Gates successor, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, focused on P2P and collaborative computing when he founded Groove Networks, and now hes touting the syncromesh, which sounds suspiciously like cloud computing.
The fact remains, though, that while Microsoft talks a good talk about the cloud, and while they do indeed have a successful Internet appliance in the Xbox, theyve been reluctant to loosen their grip on the OS and the ongoing revenues associated with it.
This could hurt them in the long run. VMware, for its fault, has no love for the OS and has a clearer vision of the post-PC world. Dont believe people who say the PC is dead, but, at the same time, dont believe those who dont see that smart phones will be a go-to computing platform soon. You could argue that they already are.
In the long run, the declining importance of the PC could be as much the result of demographics as technology.
My kids could care less about the desktop, Jones said. The computing they want to do is done through the mobile phone, and their phones go with them everywhere. Now thats a compelling model for anywhere computing.