We Don't Need No Stinking Black Boxes

We Don't Need No Stinking Black Boxes

Summary: In Late February, VMWare announced the release of ESX Server 3i, the first release of their embedded hypervisor platform for OEMs. Their initial list of partners who agreed to offer 3i hypervisors embedded in their servers is impressive -- Dell, Fujitsu Siemens, HP and IBM.


vmwarelockIn Late February, VMWare announced the release of ESX Server 3i, the first release of their embedded hypervisor platform for OEMs. Their initial list of partners who agreed to offer 3i hypervisors embedded in their servers is impressive -- Dell, Fujitsu Siemens, HP and IBM. Hewlett-Packard will begin shipment of servers using 3i within the next week, in ten distinct models, and it is expected that similar announcements from the other Tier 1 system vendors will be made within the next few weeks.

There are certainly a lot of reasons why you’d want hypervisors to be embedded in firmware -- obviously tying it closer to the hardware platform gets you around a number of integration and performance issues, and it makes sense for it to be more aligned with the BIOS than the OS itself. It’s certainly evident to me that this is the wave of the future, where every server will have an onboard hypervisor and virtualization and virtual infrastructure becomes the de jure methodology for all forms of distributed computing. I can also see this extended even further to PCs, laptops and embedded devices, where every OS will be virtualized. From a development, support and deployment standpoint, having the OS abstracted completely from the hardware makes an awful lot of sense.

But do we really, really want a single vendor using a completely closed system calling the shots of what can and can’t run on our virtualized infrastructure? As good as the ESX 3i product is – and it is an excellent product – it is also a totally closed system and unless you are a Tier 1 hardware vendor, it is a black box. Yes, VMWare has the Open VMWare Tools project so that the Guest OS interfaces themselves to the hypervisor are open, but the inner workings of ESX are closed to all but a scant few. Gee this is starting to sound like, uh… mainframes and midrange computing.

Okay, perhaps I am starting to sound like I’m biting the hand that feeds me. Sometimes, proprietary hypervisor architectures make a lot of sense. In the mainframe and midrange UNIX computing world, such as on the IBM zSeries and pSeries it works, because you have a very controlled, highly optimized platform that is completely run by a single vendor. That extremely tight integration is what yields stability and performance, and certainly VMWare must be thinking along the same lines.

However, in the case of x86 computing where the environment is largely heterogeneous, it doesn’t make sense to completely lock down the hypervisor platform. What we really need is an open x86 server architecture that allows the customer to swap in and swap out any embedded hypervisor they want. Right now, nobody other than VMWare has something that is marketable as an embedded hypervisor, so maybe this entire argument sounds a bit premature. But presumably, once the Xen-based vendors as well as Red Hat, Novell and Microsoft have a solution to allow their hypervisors to be embedded into the firmware, this is going to make a lot more sense.

Am I alone in thinking that ESX 3i should be a choice, not a default? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Hardware, Virtualization


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • VMware will fail.

    This is exactly why Sun's doing the right thing by building
    xVM in open source, without any lock in. And exactly why
    Microsoft will fail to convince me they're truly committed to
    ineroperability, as well. They're both, VMware and Microsoft,
    headed for a proprietary collision.
  • I disagree on ESX 3i pioneering rol

    "nobody other than VMWare has something that is
    marketable as an embedded hypervisor"

    How is Microsoft Hyper-V not marketable an embedded
    hypervisor? It will be embedded into a large amount of
    Operating Systems sold during the next years.

    How is Citrix XenServer not marketable as an embedded
    hypervisor? HP will be shipping HP XenServer Select Edition
    next week.
    • Embedded in FIRMWARE

      Hyper-V is slated to become firmware embedded capable in its next release. Dell pre-installs Citrix Xenserver on customer request, but it is not firmware embeddeed yet.
  • RE: We Don't Need No Stinking Black Boxes

    everyhting should be a choice, to bad microsoft is no better.
  • What are you going on about?

    It is a choice. Don't want it? Don't buy it. The vendors aren't puting the VMWare hypervisor on every machine that goes out the door. If you wan't it you buy it, and then you have a system with the VMWare OS booting from firm ware in a matter of seconds. If you don't want it, then you don't buy it, and you have an ordinary server, just like always.

    I imagine before too long the other Virtual platforms will catch up and make a similar offering. If not, then VMWare can enjoy having a unique feature that will keep a certain subset of their customers loyal to them.
  • RE: We Don't Need No Stinking Black Boxes

    Despite what the article says XenSource (Citrix) actually has a competitive solution and it shipped BEFORE Vmware's. Its perhaps just not as well marketed but it is a superior solution and offers you much more right out of the box compared to VMware's and on top of that the "upgrade" path is seamless by simply typing in a new serial key.
  • RE: We Don't Need No Stinking Black Boxes

    I think a further understanding is needed of what it means that it is "embedded in firmware". This is not something that is soldered on to the motherboard with no way to remove it.
    Basically, "embedded in firmware" means that the server boots off a USB memory stick installed in the server (this is what HP has told us, they have had an internal USB connector for this for some time).
    So, swapping embedded hypervisor is not a technical issue. It will be more of a marketing/licensing issue (will they sell the embedded version separately).

    No cause for alarm.
  • Internal USB ?

    Did someone say internal USB? If so.that means that the hypervisor of choice could be loaded to a USB stick and plugged into the motherboard. Right?
    • Re: Internal USB ?