VMware's Maritz: OSes are having their jobs stolen

Virtualization and open development frameworks are squeezing out operating systems in data centers, VMware President and CEO Paul Maritz said Wednesday at the Structure 2010 conference in San Francisco.

Though there are still operating systems underlying virtualized infrastructures, their traditional roles are being usurped by new elements that are transforming the world of IT, Maritz said. These developments are helping enterprises run old and new applications in a more efficient, cloud-like manner and get more value from their IT systems, two trends that companies are embracing, he said.

VMware is the dominant provider of virtualization technology and last year acquired SpringSource, provider of an open development framework. But Maritz described the growing role of these technologies as an industrywide trend.

Server operating systems have two traditional roles: coordinating underlying hardware resources and providing abstract services to applications, Maritz said. But in a virtualized data center, fewer server OSes are directly "seeing" specific hardware resources, he said. This role has been taken over by an entirely new layer of infrastructure consisting of virtualization as well as coordination of memory, processing power, storage, networking and policy functions, Maritz said.

When it comes to delivering abstract services to applications, developers are "voting with their feet" by adopting open frameworks such as Ruby on Rails and SpringSource's Spring, Maritz said.

"If you're programming in the Ruby On Rails framework, there is an operating system involved, but you have to work damn hard to even find out what it is," Maritz said.

Salesforce.com is working to upgrade its Force.com cloud platform to use the Spring framework, and Google is using it as the framework for its App Engine, according to Maritz. This type of framework can make applications more easily portable among different private and public clouds, he said.

Though he didn't explicitly predict the demise of server OSes, in response to another question from a moderator, Maritz did say Microsoft is likely to have a hard time adjusting to the new world of virtualization and cloud computing. "It's harder for a company to change its business model than it is to change its technology," Maritz said.

The ultimate goal in virtualized infrastructure, years down the road, is to be able to take a set of policies and automatically schedule computing, memory, storage, network, firewalls and other components to carry out those policies, according to Maritz. Ultimately, the cloud itself will become like the x86 hardware platform of today, in which the complexity is hidden from those using it.

He said this is hard to do, which is bad news for the industry in general, but good news for VMware because it is farthest along with the expertise to do it. VMware has several years of releases planned out for coordination of different types of data center infrastructure, Maritz said.

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