Ravello Systems Returns to the Light

In May, I attended the first Ravello Systems Blogger Day in Redwood City, San Francisco. It was a great day of catching up with my friends at Ravello and talking to the other bloggers invited to the event. I did quite a bit of work with Ravello when it was a small startup with developers in Israel and a team in Silicon Valley. Then, Ravello was acquired by Oracle. We cheered its success and then wondered where it went when our friends at Ravello went silent.

Disclosure: Ravello (Oracle) paid for my travel and accommodations at Blogger Day as well as for some meals and other hospitality. Ravello did not commission this article or review it before it was published.

Ravello Technology Refresher

Ravello Systems has a cloud platform that runs on top of public cloud platforms. It proves out the claim that there is always space for another layer of indirection. Ravello users can rapidly stand up and tear down collections of VMs on public cloud compute resource. A collection could be a single VM, or it could be hundreds of VMs. I see three pillars to its product: a hypervisor, a software-defined network, and a management portal.

The hypervisor, HVX, is designed to be able to run in a VM on a public cloud, quite a feat of engineering. The Ravello team learned about creating hypervisors at Qumranet, where it developed the KVM hypervisor. Red Hat acquired Qumranet, and now KVM is the standard hypervisor in most Linux distributions. The Ravello hypervisor is unusual in that it runs inside a VM and even more unusual in that it can run another hypervisor, like ESXi, inside its VMs. The engineering to make VMs run inside three different hypervisors nested inside each other is very impressive.

The software-defined networking (SDN) allows Ravello to build internal networks that are carried over the public cloud’s more restrictive network. For example, it is possible to run your own DHCP service in a VM on Ravello for your other Ravello VMs. The SDN also has features for providing outbound Internet access from inside the Ravello VMs and for publishing inbound access from the Internet to the VMs. Network fencing allows customers to run multiple instances of the same network inside Ravello. This is ideal for cloning separate training or test environments for each student or developer.

The management portal is the user interface. There is a drag-and-drop composer interface where users can assemble a collection of template VMs into an application blueprint. This visual interface is used to define VM hardware and to configure the SDN. Blueprints can then be saved back to a library, published to other members of your organization, or published publicly on the Ravello Repo. Blueprints can also be instantiated into VMs on your choice of public cloud and region.

Where Did Ravello Go?

Ravello did a great job of connecting with the VMware community and making friends and fans amongst the vExperts. Having an on-demand test and training environment is extremely helpful. Even better is the free access that Ravello gives to vExperts. In 2016, Ravello Systems was acquired by Oracle, a move that had many of us scratching our heads about Oracle’s motivation. Being acquired by Oracle is a massive change for a small startup. Our friends at Ravello spent quite a lot of time being integrated into Oracle and working out how to work inside a much larger organization. While they have been out of our sight, Ravello’s engineers have been making the platform better. One aspect is the availability of Ravello in more regions, with access to your VMs using public IP addresses in the regions.

At the Blogger Day, we also heard from a few customers who are using Ravello as part of their business. The most impressive one for me was SimSpace, which runs cyber-security training courses using Ravello to provide the lab environment. For a training course, SimSpace runs up nearly 300 VMs on Ravello, a complete network with desktops and servers in those VMs. The VMs have simulated user activity, so it looks like a real business with real users. Then, SimSpace launches cyber-attacks into the network as hands-on training. By using Ravello, SimSpace can run a much larger environment, with more enterprise-like networking compared to running on its own virtualization hosts or traditional public cloud. The on-demand pricing helps when you may only need the lab environment for a couple of dozen days each year.

We heard about some interesting futures for Ravello. As part of Oracle, it now “owns” a public cloud, the new Oracle public cloud. One result is that it can get features into the cloud hypervisor. Another is that Oracle Cloud allows bare metal, so the Ravello hypervisor could run on physical hardware. I expect that we will see VM performance under Ravello on Oracle Cloud to be far better than on AWS or Google. I also think that we will see features that make Ravello more suited to long-running production workloads when it is on top of Oracle Cloud. We also saw a new data model for the SDN; the result should be a more potent and flexible network for your VMs.

Overall, I found the Ravello Blogger Day to be extremely valuable. I got to reconnect with my Ravello friends and to see some interesting futures for their product. I also learned a lot about the Oracle public cloud and got to hang out with a lot of great community members.

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