Virtual Appliances and Integration

Loraine Lawson

Appliance: n. [uh-plahy-uhns] an instrument or device designed for a particular purpose. 2. a piece of equipment, usually operated electrically, esp. for use in the home, as a refrigerator.


For years, I thought an appliance was a mechanical do-dad found in my kitchen, as in a toaster or an easy-bake oven.


But then I started working with IT and learned an appliance is a boxed solution dedicated to running a specific software. Usually, I learned, they plugged into your system and were for things like networking, security, caching, middleware and so on. Got it.


So perhaps I can be forgiven for doing a double take when I read about virtual appliances, a concept that seems to defy any of the accepted definitions for "appliance," as well as common sense.


A virtual appliance does just what a normal appliance does, but without the hardware. If it sounds suspiciously like software, that's because, at its core, it is. The key difference is that software operates on an OS and becomes a part of your system, whereas virtual appliances ship with a trimmed-down OS and other functions they will need to run all by themselves, minus the hardware.


Think of a virtual appliance as that weird uncle who comes to your family reunions. He married your aunt so, technically, he's family. But, since he keeps to himself and never quite fits in, he's really still an outsider.


So how do virtual appliances fit in with enterprise integration?


Not well, apparently. As Andi Mann of Enterprise Management Associates explains in this CIO Update column, the cons of virtual appliances outweigh the benefits.


True, virtual appliances are simple to install, cost-effective and relatively secure. But, they don't play well with other enterprise tools, including performance management and monitoring solutions, according to Mann. They're also tricky to support and, like other virtualization efforts, virtual appliances can create security problems.


To me, that sounds like a zero-sum game. Mann doesn't disagree, concluding that virtual appliances ultimately offer the worst of both software and appliances.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 16, 2007 3:35 AM Reuven Cohen, CEO, Enomaly Inc Reuven Cohen, CEO, Enomaly Inc  says:
Virtual appliances offer portability which can be difficult or near impossible without some type of virtualization. Mann, appears to be stuck in 1995. Reply
Apr 18, 2007 5:11 AM Kimbro Staken Kimbro Staken  says:
The thing that's missing from looking at virtual appliances this way is that it really misses where they're being targeted. There are two major use cases for virtual appliances at this time, evaluation and test of complex software in an enterprise setting and the production deployment of software in a SMB setting. It's that second use case that's the critical one that people who focus on the enterprise space miss. Virtual Appliances are a godsend for small businesses that may not have dedicated IT staff. Reply
Apr 19, 2007 10:36 AM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says:
I'm curious: How do virtual appliances help with deployment of software? And how would a virtual appliance be better than a traditional appliance or even just your own box with some software on it? Reply
Apr 24, 2007 8:56 AM Kimbro Staken Kimbro Staken  says:
Compared to a traditional appliance, it's simple, there's no hardware so the cost is dramatically lower. You also gain a lot of flexibility by throwing out the proprietary hardware and deploying on industry standard hardware layered with a virtualization system. There are a lot of benefits from the perspective of high-availability and disaster recovery that come from being virtualized and a virtual appliance will gain those automatically as well. Compared to your own box it's about simplicity. For server based applications, with your own machine you have to install the OS, the application dependancies (libraries, databases, language runtimes and so on) and finally the application. With a virtual appliance all of that is pre-bundled, pre-configured and ready to run within seconds. There are no questions about library versions, database versions, OS versions. Everything is pre-selected, pre-tested and in general pretty much just works.Plus since you're distributing an entire OS you can bundle in all kinds of advanced services to help manage things. Sort of like software as a service, but with none of your data leaving your premises unless you really want it to. Reply
Apr 24, 2007 9:14 AM Loraine Loraine  says:
Thanks. That's very helpful. But you have to admit, it's a bit of an odd term: Virtual appliance. Reply

Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.



Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.