The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) recently announced the acceptance of a draft specification submitted by leading virtualization companies that seeks to establish an industry-standard format for portable virtual machines.
The specification envisions that virtual machines packaged in this format will be capable of installation on any virtualization platform supporting the standard and as a result would simplify interoperability, security and virtual machine lifecycle management for virtual infrastructures. Companies collaborating on this specification include Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, VMware, and XenSource. By collaborating on the development of the OVF specification, the group aims to make it easier for IT organizations to pre-package and certify software packaged as VM templates for deployment in their virtualized infrastructure and to facilitate the secure distribution of pre-packaged virtual appliances by ISVs and virtual appliance vendors.
The group's stated goal is to eliminate the need for IT managers to separately install, configure and manage interdependencies between virtualized operating systems and applications by enabling automated management of the VM lifecycle. The companies have collectively submitted the specification to the DMTF for development into an industry standard that can be promoted worldwide.
The proposed format, called the Open Virtual Machine Format (OVF), uses existing packaging tools to combine one or more virtual machines together with a standards-based XML wrapper, giving the virtualization platform a portable package containing all required installation and configuration parameters for the virtual machines. This allows any virtualization platform that implements the standard to correctly install and run the virtual machines. OVF specifies procedures and technologies to permit integrity checking of VMs to ensure that they have not been modified since the package was produced. This security enhancement seeks to alleviate concerns regarding adoption of virtual appliances produced by third parties.
OVF also provides mechanisms that support license checking for the enclosed VMs, and allows an installed VM to acquire information about its host virtualization platform and run-time environment for localization and optimization. In addition to supporting existing virtual hard disk formats, OVF is extensible to support future virtual hard disk formats whose specifications are openly available.
We find this announcement interesting, as it is further evidence of the growing acceptance of virtualized environments and also an indication that the industry at large is taking seriously the need to provide for standardized, virtual-machine distribution mechanisms that can be easily managed while protecting the interests of both the VM distributor and its customers. For organizations that have embraced the consolidated virtualized approach to computing, the ability to continue scaling upward while supporting multiple disparate workloads is essential, but requires as much if not more agility in the management of resources. If left to a manual process, this management overhead can be a significant gating factor preventing organizations from fully benefiting from all that virtualization has to offer.
We do note the absence of Sun Microsystems from the list of industry stalwarts that are driving this proposed specification. With all the efforts that the Copernican Company invested in the x86 architecture, and its expertise in virtualization with Solaris and its own UltraSPARC platform, we are surprised to not see its name included in the roster of talent. However, being the standards-focused company it positions itself as, we expect that over time we shall see its endorsement as well.
Overall, we are pleased that to see the continued focus on making virtual environments as rich as the physical ones, and that many of the major players are taking the efforts to ensure user trust in distributed VMs while seeking to make the deployment and management of said environments as easy and straightforward as possible.
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