In my last update on virtualization, I looked at developments toward the end of 2010 concerning virtual desktops and improvements to virtual infrastructure. The past six months have seen increasing sophistication in both areas, with new products from the major virtualization vendors and some interesting twists, which I’ve noted below.
First, let's look at the three major virtualization vendors to see what they have been up to over the past several months:
Of the three major virtualization vendors, VMware has continued its acquisitions spree and series of new product announcements. They most recently acquired SlideRocket, a slick service for collaborative presentations. They also introduced their cloud management service Cloud Foundry and cloud management tools VMware Go Pro.
Also in the first half of this year they put out an iPad version of their View virtual desktop app and released version 7 of its email software Zimbra.
Citrix has been busy as well during the past several months. They closed the acquisition of Netviewer, announced at the end of 2010, and will fold its features into the GoToMeeting family of products. They also announced Xen Cloud Platform v1.0, which allows enterprises to build private clouds with a variety of open source tools bundled together – hypervisor, storage support, and management tools.
They released a bunch of scripts to help troubleshoot XenServerand boosted the feature set in a new v9.3 of NetScaler Firewall. Finally, they recognized that Amazon's Web Services (AWS) is an important place to provide integration with its Xen lineup, since, after all, Amazon makes use of Xen to provide its many services.
Speaking of AWS, perhaps the most notable event of the past several months was a major outage there caused by a router mis-configuration. The outage rippled through sites that use AWS for their operations, including Quora, Foursquare and Reddit, and was a good lesson to understand what your cloud provider can and can't do in terms of providing failover operations.
Microsoft came out with SP1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 (can they make the product name any more complex?). It was unveiled this winter with a number of incremental improvementsto some of the newer R2 technologies that directly impact virtualized servers, including dynamic memory and DirectAccess features.
Dynamic memory allows for memory on a hypervisor to be pooled and dynamically distributed to virtual machines as needed, all without interrupting services to the VMs. There have also been additional improvements to enhance scalability and high availability when using DirectAccess in building large server networks.
Notable trends in virtualization
1. Hybrid clouds mature. The nature of hybrid clouds – meaning parts of your infrastructure are running in both public and private data centers – is getting more mature and sophisticated. New providers are springing up frequently, which make evaluating them all that much harder.
Some are traditional hosting providers, other offer more virtualization expertise and some have built their own management tools around their services. One example: Terremark's VMware-based computing as a service was acquired by Verizon for $1.4 billion, making them a major cloud provider. This move may prompt other carriers to have their own cloud marquee business.
And Amazon has been steadily beefing up its Web Services and dropping prices. "It is clear that people are now figuring out that they can do High-Performance Computing in the cloud," as they posted recently on their blog.
And as hybrid clouds mature, there is more information on lessons learned, like this post from Netflix's blog on how they made the transition from their own data centers to AWS, including cutting down on latency and learning how to scale up their operations.
2. Virtual firewalls still lag behind the physical ones. The protective technologies that are plentiful and commonplace in the physical world become few and far between when it comes to the cloud. And while few attacks have been observed in the wild that specifically target VMs, this doesn't mean you shouldn't protect them.
However, traditional firewalls aren't designed to inspect and filter the vast amount of traffic originating from a hypervisor running ten virtualized servers. VMs are so easily portable that tracking down a particular instance isn't always something that a traditional intrusion detection device can do.
And because VMs can start, stop, and move from hypervisor to hypervisor at the click of a button, protective features have to be able to handle and recognize these movements and activities with ease. Finally, few hypervisors have the access controls that even the most basic file server has.
A growing number of vendors have stepped up into this space, and the majors have begun acquiring them to add to their security portfolios:
VMware purchased Blue Lane Technologies and incorporated their software into its vShield product line.
• Juniper Networks purchased Altor Networks Virtual Firewall and is in the process of integrating it into its line of firewalls and management software.
• Third Brigade is now part of Trend Micro's Deep Security line.
There are a number of other VM security products, including these offerings:
• Beyond Trust Power Broker Servers for Virtualization
• CA's Virtual Privilege Manager
• Catbird vSecurity
• Fortinet FortiWeb VM
• Hytrust Appliance
• Reflex Systems Virtualization Management Center
Certainly, anyone with a large virtual server infrastructure should consider at least one of these products more closely to protect their investment.
3. Cloud storage shakeout. Several major cloud storage players are either getting out of the business or will be by the end of this year, including Iron Mountain's Virtual File Store (after two years), Valutscape (2009-2010) and EMC's Atmos Online (2009-2010). Some of their competitors have stepped up to help migrate the existing clients. Clearly, this is a market in transition. Expect more of the same for the remainder of this year.
Clearly, the virtualization field continues to be active. And as more vendors affix the "cloud" label to just about everything, it becomes harder to discern what is reality and what is virtually nothing. The good news is that the products are improving and becoming more capable and ready for enterprise deployment.