Little fanfare for important cloud standard OVF

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I was suspicious earlier this week when both Citrix and Microsoft blogged about their support of Open Virtualization Format.

In case you aren't familiar with OVF, it's a specification for packaging software so that it can run on any virtual machine. It addresses the dreaded vendor lock in problem and is an important enabler for workload portability among clouds that use different hypervisors.

OVF hit a milestone.

Source: Flickr/anemoneprojectors

The Citrix blog post, at least, had a point – it said that OVF version 1.1 is now an ISO standard. That's a milestone, but one that probably only people hard at work on the standard care about. Citrix also said that it is proposing updates to OVF including adding encryption and boot order specification. It vaguely said it has proposed other extensions that could be particularly useful for multi-tenancy applications.

Microsoft's blog post was even lighter on content. It says the company remains committed to portability and interoperability using OVF.

While I haven't figured out why exactly both companies decided to reinforce their commitment to this standard this week, I learned a bit about why they're committed to it generally. "It's in the interest of the also-rans to promote a standard," said Geva Perry, an advisor to cloud companies. VMware has the lion's share of the hypervisor market – a recent Aberdeen Group survey found 81 percent of companies used VMware – which means that Citrix and Microsoft have an incentive to try to make it easier for customers to run workloads on servers using their hypervisors.

The Aberdeen research showed that businesses do indeed want to use different hypervisors. In fact, it found that Citrix's Xen has a presence in an equal number of businesses as VMware – that means some primarily used Xen, others used it not as their primary hypervisor, and others were trialing it.

But possibly more important than enabling businesses to move workloads among internal servers running different hypervisors is OVF's potential to let businesses run hybrid applications using an external cloud service that happens to use a different hypervisor.

As it turns out, VMware also supports OVF. "They don't want to appear like jerks," Perry surmises.

But there's more to it than that. Both Amazon Web Services and Rackspace use Xen. So if VMware wants to steal any share from those services, it needs to make it easy for people to move their workloads off AWS and Rackspace and onto services that use its hypervisor.

So it turns out that even though this milestone in OVF's development went unnoticed by most people, the standard might make a big difference for users and vendors alike.

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