The virtual appliance market is starting to bubble through into operational environments as IT managers become more comfortable with the idea of running pre-configured systems.
The term 'juice' refers to what VMware has dubbed JeOS 'just enough operating system' an application deployment model where the underlying operating system is cut down to provide just enough functionality to support the application.
Operating systems, and Microsoft's operating systems in particular, have evolved over the years into very complex and sophisticated pieces of software. By adding more and more functionality to the operating system, independent software vendors (ISVs) and corporate developers are able to build bespoke applications and packaged solutions far more quickly than ever before. Moreover, IT departments could deploy a single departmental server or a branch system and have that machine provide File and Print services, database services, e-mail services, communications services, Web services, and more.
Although Microsoft still offers an all-in-one product for small businesses (Windows Small Business Server), Backoffice Server is now obsolete, and the company's latest operating system, Windows Server 2008 introduces a mode of operation that takes me back to the days of OS/2 before it had the Presentation Manager graphical shell. Called Server Core, this scaled-back version of Windows Server does not include Windows Explorer, the .NET Framework, or Internet Explorer, and is designed instead to be either command line driven or configured remotely using the Microsoft Management Console.
By stripping away some non-essential elements of the operating system, Windows Server 2008 gains a significant performance boost and, perhaps more importantly, it reduces the operating system's attack surface and reduces the amount of time required to patch the system when an update is published. The roles supported by a Server Core installation are limited to File and Print Services, Active Directory Domain Services, DHCP Server, DNS Server, and Web Service (IIS). There is, however, one other important service role available, and this is Microsoft's 'next-generation' hypervisor-based server Hyper-V.
So it would appear that Microsoft's latest server operating system is also a 'juice carton', ie, an operating system providing just enough capability to contain a virtualised server or application. Moreover, Microsoft Application Virtualization (formerly known as SoftGrid Application Virtualization) could turn out to be a very powerful 'juice extractor' if applied to operating systems as well as applications, as the technology is able to analyse patterns and dependencies to create a virtual application package.
With the acquisition of Thinstall, VMware also has an entry point into this realm, and so the notion of installing an operating system and then installing an application looks set to become a thing of the past, replaced instead by a Control Program/Monitor that provides a standardised way for self-contained computer programs to interact with different hardware platforms. Is anyone else getting that deja vu feeling?
IT virtualisation is providing new opportunities to both ISVs and IT departments. By combining virtual infrastructure with virtual appliances, organisations will be able to deploy and manage applications in much more flexible ways. The modularity of Linux clearly gives it a technical edge over Windows when it comes to building a virtual appliance, but with such a huge number of Wind32 applications on the market, Microsoft will have a ready-made audience for its new server offerings.