Rackspace picks up ZeroVM's 'built-for-cloud' hypervisor

ZeroVM has a fast new way to build virtual workspaces, and RackSpace was impressed enough to buy the company.
Written by David Shamah on

Rackspace has been shopping around for an Israeli partner or acquisition for several months — and this week the company announced that it was acquiring ZeroVM, an Israeli cloud technology company.

What ZeroVM offers is a built-for-the-cloud hypervisor — one that takes into account the advantages and limitations of cloud. While off-loading data from a local server allows developers to conveniently access a lot of data at once, most cloud architectures require moving the data back to the app for processing — which can cause inaccurate results due to latency issues.

The problem is compounded when a hypervisor comes into the picture. As they are complete OSes, hypervisors take time to create — at least two minutes, according to ZeroVM — and virtualise everything, including components that have nothing to do with the application involved. 

"The current architecture of the cloud is fundamentally broken, because it relies on hypervisors that were designed for a world that doesn't exist any more," said Constantine Perespykin, one of the co-founders.

"That world was one where servers lived inhouse and heavy client-server applications ruled the enterprise." Working in the cloud, on the other hand, requires lightweight, nimble hypervisors, according to ZeroVM.

Instead of virtualising a server, Perespykin said, ZeroVM virtualises lib c in Linux — "which everything passes through anyway. We can then set the lib c to work in any server environment, essentially virtualising the application, not the system." Thus the only parts of a server that gets virtualised are the parts relevant to the actual application being used — creating the necessary hypervisor framework using a mere 75 kilobytes of executable code.

The system is so light that it can be embedded anywhere — even in storage devices. That could be a big help for big data, where cloud tools can be lacking.

"Hadoop just doesn't work well in the cloud," Perespykin said. "There are all sorts of issues, like security — which Hadoop basically doesn't have, so you can't run queries in the cloud without a heavy security technology keeping out prying eyes."

With ZeroVM, a cloud device where data is being stored could be used for processing and still contain all the security needed, without degrading in speed or performance.

As a result of this hypervisor 'diet', Van Lindberg, VP of intellectual property at Rackspace, said in a blog post announcing the acquisition that ZeroVM can create a virtual server "in less than 5 milliseconds – or 1/20,000th as long" as the fastest virtual servers available today.

In fact, he said, ZeroVM is fast enough "that you can put every request into its own mini-VM to spread horizontally".

"ZeroVM is so lightweight that it could be entirely embedded into cloud-storage systems," like Rackspace CloudFiles — where it will no doubt find a new home. "And then Hadoop could detect such smarter cloud storage systems and enable predicate-pushdown optimisation for them, making Hadoop friendlier for the cloud or, should we say, making the cloud friendlier for Hadoop," ZeroVM said on its wiki.

Rackspace didn't disclose how much it paid to acquire ZeroVM, which is based in Tel Aviv and has eight employees, besides its two co-founders. The company was formed last year and was part of the TechStars Cloud 2013 program (working out of Geekdom in San Antonio, Texas). For now, said Perespykin, the company will maintain its R&D in Israel.

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