I just read a press release that indicates that the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) has accepted a new format for portable virtual machine files that was submitted by Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, VMware and XenSource. Although this announcement seems just another in an endless series of attempts by vendors to use international standards bodies as a proxy in their battle with one another in the marketplace, I think this one is really important.
Although this may read like I'm wrapping myself up in the flag when I write this, I am in favor of international standards as opposed to "standards" imposed by a single vendor. I must also add that I never wrap myself up in flags. I have a tendency to trip, fall and hurt myself when wrapped in flags. I meet the emergency room technicians often enough without doing things like this.
Working with a well-designed standard that does not promote a single vendor's products or can not be used as a competitive run around makes things a whole lot easier for an organization's IT staff. Little things like interoperability, compatibility and freedom of choice all come from well designed, well implemented standards. A well-worn example is that it is possible for a consumer to purchase an amplifier from many suppliers of electronics and be able to plug in speakers from just about any other supplier and know the configuration is going to work. Standards in the IT industry should work about the same.
We're able to communicate with one another across the network because international standards exist for network protocols, message formats, etc. We've all seen what happens when one vendor embraces a standard and extends it. Anyone using FireFox, Opera or some other non-Internet Explorer Web Browser often runs into pages that don't render properly. Some won't work at all.
What's gone before?
Until now, each of the suppliers of virtual machine technology, IBM, Microsoft, VMware, and XenSource have defined their own format for their virtual machine files. While expedient for the supplier, it made interoperability, compatibility and management a problem.
While I'm sure the vendors in question had no intention of creating problems for their customers, it is likely that, once in place, these incompatible file formats were seen as an advantage in the heated competitive market. After all, once a virtual machine was in a specific format, it was captured or locked in making it difficult for an organization to leave one vendor and adopt another vendor's products.
Virtualization in general and virtual machine software in specific are becoming more and more important as organizations work hard to increase levels of IT agility, reduce IT costs and still offer an increasing number of IT-based services to their portfolios. It is becoming increasingly clear that customers want freedom of choice when it comes to virtual machine managers. They don't want to be limited by file formats and it appears that the important players in the industry have heard them loud and clear.
What impact do you think this announcement will have?