High hopes for Open Virtualization Format standard

* The OVF provides enterprise IT managers the ability to package virtual machines

News about management standards doesn't often excite industry watchers, but the recent debut of the Distributed Management Task Force's (DMTF) Open Virtualization Format standard could change all that.

The OVF standard, officially launched at VMworld 2008 last week, and enters the management world with support from vendors ranging from Citrix and Dell to HP, IBM and Intel. The OVF provides enterprise IT managers the ability to package virtual machines (VM) in such a way that the operating system and services it needs to run are bundled together.

Winston Bumpus, president of the DMTF, likens OVF to a Zip file for VMs that includes all the requirements needed for it to run properly, easing the administrative burden for IT managers.

"OVF is a game-changer for how services and applications can be used in the data center," Bumpus says. "It's predominantly for virtual servers at this point, but it will enable IT managers to package all the servers that support an application into one bundle or include all the components of a composite application."

The OVF could also help IT managers understand how virtual machines have been changed throughout their lifecycle. For instance, if a VM template is cloned and that clone has changed from the master template, IT managers need to know what has changed to be able to troubleshoot performance problems on the VM. Essentially, OVF could help to reduce the configuration and change management burden.

"Customers should look for standards-based infrastructure for three reasons: increased choice and flexibility; reduced costs; and best practices," Bumpus says.

That all sounds great, but enterprise IT managers remain at the whim of vendors adopting such standards and incorporating them into their equipment, which keeps some industry watchers skeptical.

"Vendors will always have to have proprietary aspects to their tools to be able to differentiate, and standards adoption is typically slow," says Andi Mann, research director at Enterprise Management Associates.

But some say there is hope for OVF and the DMTF's larger initiative dubbed Virtualization Management Initiative (VMAN), which promises to deliver broadly supported interoperability and portability standards to virtual computing environments. For instance, management-specific standards typically have the support of management technology makers but not always the support of network equipment or infrastructure hardware makers -- which would have to embed support into their gear to enable the management tools to act on them.

"In the past, the lack of adoption by the infrastructure providers left standards dying on the vine, literally," says Cameron Haight, research vice president at Gartner. "Now with the OVF we have the infrastructure vendors pushing this hard so that there has been rapid advancement of this standard. And it's early enough in the adoption curve that end users might not have to retrofit their environments to take advantage of the benefits such a standard offers."

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.