March 30, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Miracle cure for software setup?

Most talk about virtualization these days centers on using server hardware more efficiently. But the technology also has the potential to ease another headache: software installation woes.

Today, administrators installing software typically must ensure beforehand that it's certified to run with their particular hardware and operating systems, then configure and optimize it afterward.

The hidden benefit from virtualization is that users can unpack a ready-to-run collection of software components--operating system and all--and drop it onto a fresh, empty partition of the computer called a virtual machine. No muss, no fuss, no driver updates, no configuration file tweaking, no conflicts with other software.

Virtualization essentially lets the companies selling the software handle the tricky part and also provides a clean slate for installation.

There's one problem, however: Some software licensing plans aren't designed to accommodate such schemes, though that could eventually change.

One convert to the approach is Open Xchange, a server software company that lets customers download its software packaged into a virtual machine so they can quickly get to the evaluation stage. Within the next six months, the company plans to release software for production use, not just testing, said Dan Kusnetzky, executive vice president of marketing strategy.

"We send an image that (has) a complete stack of software preinstalled, set up and ready to go," Kusnetzky said. "We felt it would be an advantage in the competitive marketplace," he said, because without the virtual machine approach, "it took a level of expertise to install it."

Representatives from three powers in the virtualization realm--EMC subsidiary VMware, XenSource with its open-source Xen software, and Microsoft with the proprietary Virtual Server software--all believe at a minimum that the idea has potential.

But it's VMware, which leads the virtualization market, that's working hardest to make virtual machine-based installation a reality--and to make its underlying virtual machine technology the foundation of choice. It has a Web site where people can download sample virtual-machine-based packages from Oracle, IBM and others.

"The reasons it's going to become mainstream is you can now package your application with the operating system it really wants. You get the exact patch level and everything in the OS that you want," said VMware President Diane Greene. And it's particularly useful for small software companies that don't have engineers to support a wide variety of systems. "They don't have to necessarily port their software to every possible operating system and every possible version of the operating system."

In recent months, VMware started offering two free ways that customers can try out virtual-machine-based software packages, which it calls virtual appliances. First came VMware Player in 2005, good for desktop applications, such as an isolated partition for safely surfing the Internet. In February came part two: VMware Server for server tasks.

Xen programmers are currently stabilizing their core virtual machine software, but virtual-machine-based installation will happen with Xen, too, predicted Simon Crosby, XenSource co-founder and chief technology officer. "That's equally possible in Xen...I definitely think it's going to happen," Crosby said, though he acknowledged Xen doesn't yet have VMware's mature virtual machine management software or established presence at many customer sites.

Licensing lumps
Not so fast, cautions Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "This is a direction, but not a near-term mainstream change in the way that everyone installs their applications," Haff said. "There are too many details to work through. Licensing is one issue."

The licensing hurdle stems chiefly from the fact that the installation method requires the inclusion of an operating system, and although software companies might delight in distributing them willy-nilly, operating system companies are more finicky.

Microsoft, for example, permits only evaluation copies of Windows to be distributed, and then only within a company and only to test and evaluate software, said James Ni, group product manager for server virtualization at Microsoft.

"Currently there is no redistribution of the Windows Server operating system," Ni said. Right now, the virtual installation idea is about testing software rather than full-on production use, so the evaluation software approach is appropriate, Ni argued.

He's not alone in his assessment. "I would expect this to be primarily about experimentation," said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett.

Ni didn't close the door to virtual-machine-based software sales. Market forces dictated major changes to Microsoft licensing policies before. For example, Microsoft in 2004 began charging the same price for a dual-core processor as for a single-core processor, and in 2005 started permitting customers with one license for Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition to run as many as four copies on a single server partitioned with virtual machine software.

But Microsoft's policy is an impediment to VMware's aspiration. Greene sees companies distributing virtual-machine-based software internally today and expects customers will eventually buy it that way, Greene said.

"Microsoft is not letting their operating system be used in this model," Greene said. And though it's had a more permissive position in the past, it has backed off that stance: "Microsoft did not renew our license to (redistribute) Windows."

CONTINUED: Virtualizing the software…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
Xen, virtual machine, VMware, virtualization, EMC Corp.


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
OS Licensing not a problem...
Perhaps Apple might have some reservations, but Microsoft is clearly already thinking around those lines and no doubt has a plan to address licensing.

Outside those two, the vast majority of operating systems are freely redistributable and wouldn't pose a licensing issue. The virtualization scheme is particularly of interest for server-side software (databases, app servers, etc), so Linux and FreeBSD are likely to be the environments of choice anyway -- they certainly have the appropriate license terms to make them very convenient to virtualize and are much more easily trimmed down and customized to fit specific needs.

Lots of vendors already ship Linux live CDs with demo versions of their product. Oracle hands that stuff out like candy.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Outside those two...."
Ignoring the impact of Windows and Apple operating systems when discussing OS licensing is perfectly ridiculous.
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Link Flag
Windows on Linux
IMO, VMWare is the only way to run Windows. Our virtual MS servers (all fully licensed) are hosted on Linux servers. If a virus/hacker/bad patch. etc. damages one of our Windows "servers", restoring it is as easy as restoring the virtual machine file directory.

Prepackaging as discussed in the article would be icing on the cake.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The best feature of VMWare...
... is that you can have a VM and designate
disks in the VM as having non-permanent changes.
Having a system where you can have parts
read-only, other parts read-write, and still
others read-write-but-not-saved is just

Being able to move the VMs to different machines
is also very nice.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
You missed a new product
One of the hottest new products in this arena is Altiris' Software Virtualization Solution. You can read about it here: <a class="jive-link-external" href=",1759,1941829,00.asp" target="_newWindow">,1759,1941829,00.asp</a>
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Not the same thing...
Altiris' product is quite different. It is essentially a wrapper of sorts to provide the same functionality as relocatable packages and loadable filesystem images in other systems.

SVS is peculiar to Windows because it doesn't already have a method for doing it, but it's also limited to Windows and the host environment provided. You couldn't run Vista-specific software under Win2K, for example, like you could using virtualization. Virtualization would permit you to run OS/X apps under WinXP, or OS/X apps under Linux, etc. Further, virtualization completely abstracts away the hardware and everything else so you are guaranteed to not have any issues with the host hardware, drivers, or environment.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
Having two OSs would likely make installation and running software more confusing then ever.

Most of the users have hard time working with more than single application at the same time - trying adding to the mess another OS would hardly improve anything.

Unless computers will learn to read user's mind...
Posted by Philips (400 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Missing the point...
The VMs are not for running the OS, but a
specific application. Basically, you start with
the application and take a pared-down
environment that is know to work with it.

The user would see the application, nothing else
(unless that's the way it was distributed). No
installers, just drag and drop the VM file and
click to run. Ultimately, it wouldn't matter if
you're running Linux, Windows, or Mac, just grab
the same VM image and run it -- completely self

That said, its currently only practical for
pretty large software packages. You're not
likely to distribute a VM that has your software
plus Windows -- far too big (maybe a smaller OS,
you can get Linux down to 2-3M if you need to).
This technology is currently very popular in the
server space. It won't spill over into user
space until there are some better toolkits for
assembling and testing custom-tuned VMs. The VM
method also incurs quite a bit of overhead
compared to native code, so you're not going to
have NOTEPAD.EXE deployed as a VM.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
An opening for Linux
This structure sounds like a way that the Linux crowd can finally get their product into the public consciousness--imagine having a software with an icon that lets you hide or expand an entire OS so the user can actually choose to use something other than Windows if they want to! It would be like Easter Eggs on dvd's. Many users would see something like this as a value-added feature if the particular Linux distribution were attractive and had some interesting features. People might even buy a particular software to get the OS or browser or other application that came with it, if advertised openly and marketed cleverly...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Windows 2003 R2
I read an article about the ESX Server from VMware. In this article it stated that the R2 Enterprise version of Win2k3 can be installed 4 times using 1 license within the same physical ESX server. The article was in WindowsITPro. I wonder why they don't mention it here.
Posted by ZeroJCF (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Miracle cure to a lot more things
Virtualization is going to fix a lot more problems like Outsourcing etc as well. Listen to what I have to say on my podcast (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>) about it.


My Blog: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by TarrySingh (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Prepackaged OS/Apps
With VMWare releasing the VMPlayer an interesting situation is in place.
If there isn't licensing issues (comments welcome  interested to know if VMWare do not allow distribution of images) then as per the article companies could provide a pre-packaged OS/App for people to use.
For Linux  Forget your LiveCD distributions. Just download the image and run it from VMPlayer. In that way you get all the advantages of a LiveCD, but with all the information held on your drive providing the ability to compare and contrast.
For new users this would be great. No messy install. All hardware configured correctly. I have used VMWare on a notebook running XP with a wireless adaptor and it passed it through without any problems. It was just seen as an Ethernet Adaptor. So, I didnt have to mess about with the Wrapper.

Assuming all images work with all configs and VMPlayer will do the translation then I think the LiveCD days are limited.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.