Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

Summary: If virtualization were truly evil, it would be a lot more popular than it is. Unfortunately, Linus Torvalds thinks virtualization is evil. Evil technology should be made of sterner stuff.


Back in August during his LinuxCon keynote interview, Linus Torvalds proclaimed that "Virtualization is Evil." I'm sorry to again disagree with the great Linus Torvalds, purveyor of truth, justice and the Linux way but alas, I do. Virtualization isn't evil. It's sarcastic. Sarcasm isn't evil. And, I'm not being sarcastic when I say that.

Linus doesn't like virtualization because it separates him from the hardware, which is why he built the Linux kernel in the first place. He wanted to "get his grubby hands" on things like I/O ports. Virtualization sarcastically denies the importance of the underlying hardware by abstracting it into a standard hardware subset. But, it isn't evil. It's not even mischievous. But, it's plenty sarcastic.

Evil implies that there's some sort of malevolent force behind virtualization. Like there's someone wanting to purposely undermine physical hardware's importance. Nothing could be further from the truth. You still need hardware on which to run your hypervisor. KVM, Xen and VMware all use some form of Linux kernel. There you go, Linus, there's Linux working on actual, physical hardware. Not evil.

e·vil [ee-vuhl]


1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds; an evil life. 2. harmful; injurious: evil laws. 3. characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days. 4. due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character: an evil reputation. 5. marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc.: He is known for his evil disposition.


6. that which is evil; evil quality, intention, or conduct: to choose the lesser of two evils. 7. the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin. 8. the wicked or immoral part of someone or something: The evil in his nature has destroyed the good. 9. harm; mischief; misfortune: to wish one evil. 10. anything causing injury or harm: Tobacco is considered by some to be an evil.

Linus obviously, and thankfully, likes to tinker with hardware and drivers but many of us don't. We need to support production systems. Virtualization makes support easy because of that standard set of (not) evil virtual hardware. Hardware tinkering, settings tweaking and unstable driver installing on production systems is not a good plan--not for me anyway. I'd rather have a standard set of hardware supported by stable drivers to deal with rather than to rely on a single programmer who cranks out code at his convenience. And, all the while I'm missing my SLAs and making clients very unhappy.

Production systems require stability. Virtualization provides that stability. Therefore, virtualization is not evil. Unstable drivers are evil.

sar·casm [sahr-kaz-uhm]


1. harsh or bitter derision or irony. 2. a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark: a review full of sarcasms.

I like virtualization because it provides a consistent hardware environment. I don't have to guess what brand of memory is in a system. I don't have to know who manufactured the motherboard. I don't have to search a vendor site for BIOS updates. And, I never have to worry that some vendor didn't do proper regression testing on their drivers prior to releasing them to the public.

And, I've never had a driver-related BSOD or kernel panic on a virtual machine.

Yep, there's much to love about virtualization. But, I'm glad that there are people out there like Linus who love to work with hardware and who are willing to troubleshoot, fix and tinker. To me, those things are evil.

I guess Linus and I will have to agree to disagree on this point.

Virtualization makes sense from several points-of-view: financial, support, stability, space, consistency and deployment.

If that's evil, then I'm gonna need more evil.

Perhaps Linus was being sarcastic when he said "Virtualization is evil."

What do you think? Do you think virtualization is evil?

Topics: CXO, Cloud, Hardware, Storage, Virtualization


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Taxes

    They are evil and unpopular ...
    • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

      @BrentRBrian You are obviously not "enlightened", because then you would know that taxes are best thing since sliced bread. It give equality to the poor, down on his luck slacker at the expense of that evil, greedy productive hacker. Why do you hate poor people so much?
      • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

        ummmmmmmm this sounds almost like sarcasm.
  • Virtualization is like the little white lies your parents tell you...

    Sure, there's plenty of memory (oversubscribed), plenty of storage (oversubscribed), and there's plenty of CPU cycles (if no-one's doing anything) ... so yeah, you can run 5 virtual machines on this one piece of hardware.

    So long as the expectations are managed correctly, these 'little white lies' cause no harm and allow you to deploy more VMs than you have systems in order to meet dynamic needs.

    Where it gets hairy is when the utilization starts over-topping the actual capabilities of the underlying physical hardware. Then you add a box and vmotion the VMs to re-balance the load.

    Virtualizing gives you freedom and 'breathing space' while helping to control the cost of new host hardware, electricity, air conditioning, floor space, etc...

    It is not perfect, but even for those of us who like to tinker with hardware, it is certainly not 'evil'.

  • Jim Zemlin on Virtualization



    <i>Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation, perhaps summed it up best. In his closing remarks he said, "For all you bloggers out there, I have your headline for you: `Linux Torvalds says that virtualizaiton is evil, world disagrees.'"</i>
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      Ha! Where do you think I got the idea?
      • Hah

        Oh, I dunno :/
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
  • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

    I agree with Linus! Since our department started virtualizing our servers, we have lost control. The hardware and OS now belongs to the virtualization gods and we are not allowed to touch. This makes it very difficult to support the products that we have running on these virtual machines. So yes it is evil... Oh ya and slower!!!
    • Sounds like a Departmental Issue

      @mattonm Sounds like you need to work better with your virtualization team. This is the classic BofH issue.
      Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.


      You should have the same access that you did before they were virtualized through terminal services or via shares, etc. And, if they're slower, they weren't built correctly. Also, some workloads don't perform well on virtual machines. Be more specific and I'll try to guide you on the issues that you have.
    • Evil and Sarcastic

      @mattonm, I have a son who is in IT, and runs the server room at his company. He, without telling anyone, virtualized some of the heavier use servers. He then waited three weeks, and in a staff meeting he mentioned he was thinking of making those servers virtual machines. Everyone at the meeting told him it was a bad idea, that it wouldn't work right, and it would be a lot slower. <br>Then one lady said "And anyway, those servers have been running beautifully for the last three weeks. I haven't had a bit of problem, and they've been quick to respond."<br>That's when my son mentioned that he had already virtualized them three weeks before. I think he was being both evil and sarcastic.
      • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.


        I've done similar things and it always changed the "flavor" of the meeting. Of course, it also painted a target on my back. IT people can be very vindictive and evil when you make them look foolish to management.
      • Fable


        Sounds like a fable to me. Any organization would have in place change management to keep this scenario from happening.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

      @mattonm Then you're doing it wrong. Plain and simple.
  • Virtualization Is For Moron OSes

    Virtualization seems to be primarily useful for Windows servers. The vendors of the proprietary applications that they run tend to be quick to point the finger at somebody else when there's a problem, so the only safe way to run their software is on separate machines.

    Contrast this with Linux servers running open-source stacks, where all the developers have a vested interest in having their stuff play nice with everybody else. So a Linux server can reliably fulfil multiple roles while still being much easier to troubleshoot than Windows.
  • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

    Well, although I understand the attraction of a stable (virtual) hardware environment. As you already admitted, hypervisors still need to run on bare hardware. And since new hardware is developed and distributed constantly, there will always be driver trouble. You merely shifted the issues from the virtualized guest to the hypervisor.

    In other words: virtualization does not magically make your computer systems more stable. It all depends on the hardware support of the hypervisor.
  • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

    There must be more context to the quote than a simple declaration that virtualization is evil. In the past, Linus has said that he's ambivalent to it since he currently has no need for it. It should be clear to anyone that we're currently experiencing a virtualization bubble. Virtualization is being over-prescribed as a cure-all for IT issues when it's clearly not the only solution, and not the best solution in all cases. Many of the recent use cases I've seen are essentially abusing features of virtualization to make up for shortcomings in the hosted application or OS. Live migration of a whole VM image wouldn't be necessary if we had a distributed OS that could live migrate individual applications. Spinning up a whole new OS should seem like a lot of overhead to anyone looking to distribute clients to a new node. It wouldn't be necessary if we were building robust distributed applications. In a lot of scenarios virtualization is a convenient kludge that obfuscates the real problem, as well as the need to solve it.

    In some ways, Linus is right. As an industry we're opting for the lazy and inefficient solution instead of addressing the real problems we're trying to solve.

    You don't need to give every user root access. You don't need to give every developer root access. You don't need to give every application root access on their own private OS instance. What's wrong with your software that it can't coexist with other applications and play nice?
    • RE: Virtualization is not evil. It's sarcastic.

      @Sitwon said "Live migration of a whole VM image wouldn't be necessary if we had a distributed OS that could live migrate individual applications. Spinning up a whole new OS should seem like a lot of overhead to anyone looking to distribute clients to a new node. It wouldn't be necessary if we were building robust distributed applications. In a lot of scenarios virtualization is a convenient kludge that obfuscates the real problem, as well as the need to solve it."

      But the problem is that those types of "robust distributed applications" don't exist in any production-ready, usable form so saying that virtualization is improper is just plain silly. It's like saying air travel is improper when what we should be doing is point-to-point, single person teleportation. Um, sure, that would a lot better but it kind of doesn't exist...yet.
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