By now, everyone in our industry has heard a future IT vision where virtual machines (VMs) migrate from one physical server to another for load balancing, disaster recovery, or maintenance windows. Sounds great in theory, but things in IT aren't this simple. Each VM actually represents an operating system and some associated services or applications. When VMs move around, will they maintain their configuration state or need to be reconfigured? Will multi-tiered applications know that one of their peers has moved to a new neighborhood? Will the network recognize the VM as an old friend or will it assume that it is a new entity? These questions need real answers--not PowerPoint slides.
Fortunately, some very smart people are already thinking about how to solve these dicey problems. The good folks at the Distributed Management Task Force recently published a standard called the Open Virtualization Format (OVF). In geek land, OVF is a way to describe the properties of VMs from the network layer up to the application so they can retain "state" as they are created or moved. As an analogy, think of OVF as a virtual machine's passport and visa. As the VM travels around, OVF gives it an identity, some personal information, and a description about what it can and can't do in its new location.
Good--and necessary--stuff. OVF is no fly-by-night effort, rather it is supported by a who's who of virtualization and industry bigwigs including Citrix, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Sun, Symantec, and VMware.
It's clear to me and my colleague, Mr. Virtualization, Mark Bowker, that OVF is exactly what the industry needs to push server virtualization toward more dynamic data centers and integration with cloud computing. What's somewhat of a mystery is why more technology vendors either don't know what OVF is or why they aren't supporting it. For example, Cisco's recent UCS announcement was all about taking server virtualization to a new plateau but there was no mention of OVF. When I asked company officials specifically about this, they told me that they aren't using OVF in UCS. To be fair, Cisco is certainly open to using OVF in the future, but I think my question caught them off guard. John Chamber's folks must have thought, "who is this guy and how does he know about OVF?"
Like many standards, my guess is that OVF is such a nerdy topic that few outside a few industry engineers know what the heck it is. To me, OVF is one standard that has tons of potential--if people know about it and use it. The industry has a responsibility to do a better job of communicating about these types of standards before vendors simply usurp the process with their own proprietary alternative. It would be an absolute crime if this happens.