Virtualization: Crossing the Platform Divide


Data migration in virtual environments has always been a thorn in the side of those pushing the virtual model as the future of the data center. Once the virtual layer has broken the link between hardware and operating system, how do you take the next step and move applications across proprietary platforms, or competing CPU designs, for that matter?


That's the goal IBM is striving toward with the purchase this week of Transitive, a software firm that has devised a means of cross-platform virtualization capable of transferring workloads between UNIX and open source environments without having to recode at the binary level. The technology should do wonders for IBM's effort to wedge into rival installations, namely Sun, by offering the means to transfer applications over to the Power server or even the company's mainframe systems.


At the moment, Transitive specializes in Solaris/SPARC environments. You can redeploy applications for Solaris 8 and above onto the company's QuickTransit Server or any server platform running QuickTransit, either as a native OS or under a virtual machine. That way, you can dump those older Solaris machines and consolidate apps onto newer blades without having to port or recompile multiple projects.


But what's good for IBM might not be so great for some of its business partners, namely Intel. Transitive recently extended support for the upcoming Quad-Core Opterons from AMD, saying they offer a compelling alternative for power-hungry SPARC environments. While that may be no big deal in itself Intel x86 quads are also easy on power consumption AMD recently mounted a demo with Red Hat showing the live migration possibilities between VMs on AMD and Intel platforms. That would give AMD a huge wedge into legacy Intel environments, forcing Intel to match or beat AMD's pricing pressure. Of course, the reverse is true as well, if AMD customers come to view the Intel platform as more robust and the company itself to be a more reliable business partner.


All of this adds further evidence to the fact that IT is undergoing the most fundamental shift since the advent of the Internet. I think we're rapidly approaching an age in which any software application will be available on any hardware platform at any time. Commodity hardware will soon be the norm, and organizations will differentiate themselves by how well they manage and blend their software.