The Thinning of the Operating System

Michael Vizard

You wouldn't know it to look at them, but operating systems are wasting away. The reason for this slow, but inevitable, thinning of the operating system comes down to the expanding reach of the hypervisor and more abstraction of system services into application server layer.

During his keynote at EMC World 2010, EMC CEO Joe Tucci made reference to this trend, which he says even Microsoft recognizes. In the case of EMC, he said, the company's VMware subsidiary is building virtual machines where the internal hypervisor directly manages all the access to the devices drivers.

In fact, he said VMware is taking advantage of the hypervisor to rethink how security and storage should be managed all together. As Tucci noted, security and storage management emerged as a discipline to compensate for those missing capabilities in the operating system. Going forward, he said IT organizations should expect to see VMware embed security and storage management services directly into the virtual server environment.

Meanwhile, Tucci noted that more application management functionality is being embedded into the application server level. In the case of VMware, that means putting more data and application management functionality into SpringSource, the application development environment that EMC acquired and made part of its VMware subsidiary. To expand that mission, VMware last week acquired Gemstone, which provides an object framework for managing distributed sets of data in memory.

None of this is lost on Oracle, either. The company recently announced an implementation of its WebLogic application server that doesn't require an underlying operating system to run. Tucci says Microsoft recognizes this eventuality as well, which accounts for all its investments in the Hyper-V virtualization layer and Microsoft.Net.

The good news is that as enterprise computing continues to transform, a long overdue, more rational alternative to throwing everything into the operating system is finally starting to emerge.

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