vMotion: True Disruption


As I think back over the journey from physical, to virtual, to cloud, to containers, there is one technology that stands out—one that has fundamentally moved our mindset away from static resources and has caused a serious shift in how we license, secure, and even think about technology. For me, that shift started the first time I saw vMotion in action (vMotion moves a virtual machine from one host to another without taking the virtual machine down or stopping the running application, and without disaster striking). This one instance shifted my worldview of computing from one in which resources are static to one where they are truly virtual—where the underlying infrastructure in many ways just did not matter. This one technology paved the way for the future of computing.

Many of us were amazed and started moving VMs from host to host for fun, showing off the technology to friends and even family. “Gobsmacked” is the first adjective many claimed as they saw vMotion for the first time. Now, many years later, we still talk about this one technology. It is in many ways the most disruptive thing that has happened in computing since the advent of transistors. It has changed computing more than any other technology has, and it has changed not only computing, but how we think about computing. It has changed the people, the processes, and how we think about technology.

Many are still as fascinated by vMotion today as we were when it was first demoed. Many saw the potential immediately:

  • No more after-hours upgrades
  • Better work-life balance
  • No need to shut down major applications

The list goes on. Yes, this one technology showed us how to think about cloud before cloud was important to many. It changed how we do business in ways we are still trying to grasp. vMotion changed how we think about:

  • Licensing and how to license
  • Support and the need for anything physical
  • Containers: a virtual machine was nothing but a movable container of compute, memory, networking, and storage
  • Automation and orchestration
  • Change control
  • Security
  • People and processes

vMotion, more than virtualization, paved the road to where we are today and where we will go in the future. It has changed how we view the computing world. vMotion cemented the fact that virtual machines are nothing more than containers, albeit heavyweight containers. This led people to make lighter weight containers of just the application, such as application virtualization and Docker containers.

Many container technologies are there to allow true app mobility, comparing their capabilities to vMotion. Without vMotion, we would still be statically hooking up non-network peripherals to virtual machines. Early on in virtualization, we treated virtual machines as physical machines. We would add to the virtual machines SCSI, parallel and serial port, and USB devices. After vMotion, this practice stopped, and the network peripheral became the norm. If a peripheral is needed within the virtual machine container, we find network ways to make it happen over direct connection methods. Even our direct connection methods allow for vMotion, such as network SR-IOV. vMotion has also changed how we look at hardware. We no longer have disparate systems in a cluster. We keep the same systems with the same features, components, and configuration.

vMotion has helped us to combat configuration drift, which helps with security, availability, and support. It has allowed us to do more with our time during the day. No longer do we need to wait until the end of the day to do things: we correct issues during the day. In many ways, vMotion has allowed companies to be “always on.” The introduction of Storage vMotion (which enables the movement of running VMs between storage devices) has not had as great an impact as vMotion itself.

With both technologies, it is possible not only to upgrade compute systems without downtime, but also to switch out full arrays without downtime. They have become a part of many technology plans. Over at the Blue Gears Blog, the vSphere Upgrade Saga has documented all the cases in which vMotion has aided in keeping a system upgraded in hardware and software, from VMware ESXi 2.0 through VMware vSphere 6.0. Now we can vMotion between data centers and even between vSphere-based clouds.

Container technologies are trying to achieve the same level of disruption within an ecosystem in which companies are talking about vMotion for data and containers. I equate this to herding the cattle around instead of just shooting them and starting over. Both are possible, and both have their place. However, we are not there yet with containers or applications. For containers to work, a fundamental shift in thinking is required by developers. We have already made the fundamental shift to think that everything is a container, thanks to vMotion.

This is part 1 of a series on disruptive technologies.

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Edward Haletky
Edward L. Haletky, aka Texiwill, is the author of VMware vSphere(TM) and Virtual Infrastructure Security: Securing the Virtual Environment as well as VMware ESX and ESXi in the Enterprise: Planning Deployment of Virtualization Servers, 2nd Edition. Edward owns AstroArch Consulting, Inc., providing virtualization, security, network consulting and development and The Virtualization Practice where he is also an Analyst. Edward is the Moderator and Host of the Virtualization Security Podcast as well as a guru and moderator for the VMware Communities Forums, providing answers to security and configuration questions. Edward is working on new books on Virtualization. [All Papers/Publications...]
Edward Haletky

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