Cloud providers touting multi-hypervisor support

Reactions at Interop mixed as some experts say need overrated

When Tata Communications, the Indian telecommunications company, rolls out its infrastructure as a service cloud offering in America in the coming months, company officials want to claim differentiating features in the products. And one they're hoping to include is support for multiple hypervisors.

While most cloud infrastructure service providers architect the data centers that host their cloud offerings around a single hypervisor format, such as VMware or Citrix's XenServer, a growing trend in the cloud industry, according to some analysts, is around service providers offering customers their choice of the underlying virtualization software powering the cloud offering.

"Customers are multi-hypervisor, so we strive to support them," says Tata Senior Vice President John Landau.

But from a customer perspective, does it really matter what hypervisor a service provider uses?

"From a technology standpoint, it shouldn't really matter," says Agatha Poon, who tracks the global cloud market at the 451 Research Group. She says along with providers moving up the stack into providing platform-as-a-service offerings, she believes providers will look to offer multiple hypervisors as well.

Hypervisors have been fairly commoditized and various brands, including those from VMware, Citrix, as well as other formats such as KVM and Microsoft's Hyper-V, offer similar feature sets, she says. But there could be some reason for customers to care which hypervisors their provider uses.

Specifically, if a customer is looking to migrate workloads between their on-site environment and the public cloud, then having common hypervisor software could be helpful, says cloud analyst Philbert Shih of Structure Research. It can reduce the need to rewrite applications to operate with specific hypervisors, for example.

But, if a company uses the cloud for new applications that are deployed in the cloud and will live there for their entire life cycle, then it shouldn't really matter the hypervisor of the service provider, he says.

Having portability of workloads between the private and public clouds is exactly what Allan Leinwand was looking for when he architected the hybrid cloud that powers Zynga, the social gaming site. Leinwand's approach is to "own the base and rent the spike," he said during a keynote speech at Interop this week.

That means that Zynga's infrastructure, dubbed zCloud, has enough on-site capacity to handle most of the company's common IT needs. When there is a spike in demand, from a new game being launched, to one going viral, zCloud uses public cloud resources. In order to make for easy migration of workflows between the on-premise zCloud and the Amazon Web Service (AWS) public cloud, Leinwand constructed the zCloud to look, feel and act as much like the AWS cloud as possible, he says. Part of that involved using the same hypervisor equipment as AWS, which is the Citrix Xen hypervisor.

Ellen Rubin, vice president of cloud at Terremark, and another Interop keynote speaker, said increasingly, more companies are experimenting with multiple hypervisor formats on their own premises, and service providers should be able to accommodate that. While about 90% of enterprises use VMware for their on-premise virtualization, more than half of enterprises, she estimates, are experimenting with more than one hypervisor format, usually within a test and development environment or within specific departments.

While Terremark uses VMware, the company doesn't want to turn those customers away. That was part of the reason behind Terremark's 2011 purchase of CloudSwitch, which Rubin co-founded. CloudSwitch specializes in migration between on premise and cloud environments, or the building of hybrid cloud, no matter the underlying hypervisor.

There are other companies with similar capabilities. 6Fusion, for example, wants to make the choice of what hypervisor is used irrelevant. 6Fusion is a cloud-delivered software-as-a-service that sits between the on premise solution and the cloud to allow for migration between the two environments.

"With true interoperability, you can take virtual machines running on VMware, move them to another location with Xen in the background and not notice a difference," he says. Providers aren't quite offering that type of capability yet, he says.

Shih, the Structure Research analyst, said he expects that to increase steadily into the future. In the meantime, a growing number of companies will offer support to customers to allow for easier migration between their on premise and public clouds.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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