Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Open Virtual Machine Format for Cloud Portability

Over the last couple days I've been doing some research into the various options for cloud centric virtual machine packaging formats & standards. I have come to a somewhat obvious conclusion; There is really only one option -- the Open Virtual Machine Format (OVF).

According to the DMTF, OVF simplifies interoperability, security and virtual machine lifecycle management by describing an open, secure, portable, efficient and extensible format for the packaging and distribution of one or more virtual appliances and applications. This enables software developers to ship pre-configured, ready-to-deploy solutions, allowing end-users to distribute applications into their environments with minimal effort. They also go on to state that the standard can also serve as a building block for cloud computing. From a cloud interoperability marketing point of view, it sounds almost too good to be true. Luckily, it is as good as it sounds and generally is very well thought through.

But a major problem still remains -- not one infrastructure as a service provider currently supports the OVF standard. Which got me thinking. It's been almost two years since the original OVF specification has been submitted to DMTF (September, 2007), so why hasn't the apparently best / only option for VM centric cloud interoperability and portability not been adopted, period? It certainly doesn't appear to be a technical issue, maybe it's a business issue? If it's a business decision what might be driving it? From a customer point of view, being able to package and move a uniform and standardized OVF package would certainly seem compelling enough.

If you look at the hundred plus companies listed on the open cloud manifesto website there certainly seems to a willingness to associate yourself with the concepts of "openness" and interoperability. The one thing I will freely admit is that the open cloud manifesto has done a tremendous job in providing us with a great deal of market intelligence on cloud interoperability and portability. From what I can tell most generally agree that interoperability is an important issue that needs to be addressed. But the problem still remains that talk is cheap and actions speak louder then words and in our case action is adoption.

Over the last couple years since the OVF stardard was announced a number of the largest technology companies have stated they plan on supporting the OVF standard. A few have taken steps to prove their commitment including an IBM sponsored open source project Open-OVF, a VMware OVF Tool as well as Citrix's Project Kensho OVF Tool. So from an enablement point of view there certainly are tools to help in the adopt cycle. Yet OVF still isn't being adopted. Why?

So my final question is simple. Assuming OVF is the right format for open cloud portability, how can we as a community encourage cloud providers to start offering OVF support within their clouds?

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