Sunday, August 11, 2013

The killer app for virtualization

The killer application for virtualization is... running legacy operating systems.

This isn't a new thought on my part. When I was designing the Intransa StorStac 7.20 storage appliance platform I deliberately put virtualization drivers into it so that we could run Intransa StorStac as a virtual appliance on some future hardware platform not supported by the 2.6.32 kernel. And yes, that works (no joke, I tried it out of course, the only thing that didn't work was sensors but if Viakoo ever wants to deliver a virtualized IntransaBrand appliance I know how to fix the sensors). My thought was future-proofing -- I could tell from the layoffs and from the unsold equipment piled up everywhere that Intransa was not long for the world, so I decided to leave whoever bought the carcass a platform that had some legs on it. So it has drivers for the network chips in the X9 series SuperMicro motherboards (Sandy/Ivy Bridge) as well as the virtualization drivers. So there's now a pretty reasonable migration path to keep StorStac running into the next decade... first migrate it to Sandy/Ivy Bridge physical hardware, then once that's EOL'ed migrate it to running on top of a virtual platform on top of Haswell or its successors.

But what brought it to mind today was ZFS. I need some of the features of the LIO iSCSI stack and some of the newer features of libvirtd for some things I am doing, so have ended up needing to run a recent Fedora on my big home server (which is now up to 48 gigabytes of memory and 14 terabytes of storage). The problem is that two of those storage drives are offsite backups from work (ZFS replication, duh) and I need to use ZFS to apply the ZFS diffsets that I haul home from work. That was not a problem for Linux kernels up to 3.9, but now Fedora 18/19 have rolled out 3.10, and ZFSonLinux won't compile against the 3.10 kernel. I found that out the hard way when the new kernel came in, and DKMS spit up all over the floor because of ZFS.

The solution? Virtualization to the rescue! I rolled up a Centos 6.4 virtual machine, pushed all the ZFS drives into it, gave it a fair chunk of memory, and voila. One legacy platform that can sit there happily for the next few years doing its thing, while the Fedora underneath it changes with the seasons.

Of course that is nothing new. A lot of the infrastructure that I migrated from Intransa's equipment onto Viakoo's equipment was virtualized servers dating in some cases all the way back to physical servers that Intransa bought in 2003 when they got their huge infusion of VC money. Still, it's just a practical reminder of the killer app for virtualization -- the fact that it allows your OS and software to survive despite underlying drivers and architectures changing with the seasons. Now making your computer work faster can be done without changing anything at all about it -- just buy a couple of new virtualization servers with the very latest fastest hardware and then migrate your virtual machines to them. Quick, easy, and terrifies OS vendors (especially Microsoft) like crazy because now you no longer need to buy a new OS to run on the new hardware, you can just keep using your old reliable OS forever.


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