The Rise of the Apprentice

Although there is nothing hideous about VMs and Containers, with the newest installment of the Star Wars saga imminent, it is somewhat timely to draw an analogy from the dark forces. The sith master always has an apprentice who learns from him and becomes stronger to the point where he does not need the master. He sometimes even kills the master only to look for his own apprentice. The days of VMs are not yet numbered, but the force seems to be strong with Containers.


Back in 2003, when VMware announced vCenter with ESX, it liberated the applications from hardware crutch and vMotion was sheer magic. However, the compute, storage and networking ecosystem around ESX was built for bare metal applications. VMware invested heavily into processor emulation, abstracted the SAN and NAS storage appliances via VMFS and NFS client to provide a virtualization-friendly storage interface, and introduced the powerful concept of the vSwitch and vDS. Till recently, the VMkernel has been bulking up with new functionality including vSAN and NSX. So, why is it that some folks are questioning the supreme power of the bulky hypervisor?

The answer lies in what is “outside” the hypervisor. First, Intel built in vTX and EPT and took over compute virtualization responsibility from the hypervisor. Storage built for virtualization is now pervasive and takes away the need for the hypervisor to provide its own filesystem (VMFS). Networking that is aware of virtualized workloads is common and network virtualization is gaining momentum. These secular trends are reducing the need for the hypervisor to “compensate” for the lack of virtualization-awareness in the datacenter. As the datacenter awakens in the new virtualized world, the hypervisor itself has to get reborn into a lean, reliable and secure resource manager. A new apprentice, that is.

Earlier this year, we launched the Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV). AHV is a lean and stateless hypervisor that excels at what a hypervisor should excel at: (i) Security; (ii) Performance; (iii) Reliability; and most importantly, being Invisible. For instance, very few people know or care to know what hypervisor runs in AWS EC2. A good hypervisor is the one that makes itself invisible. In a similar vein, AHV eliminates the need to manage the hypervisor separately. There is no need to install a vCenter. As we undo the complexities introduced in the datacenter by legacy hypervisor technology, we are also delighted to see the adoption of next generation applications written to leverage containers.

Today, the container ecosystem is nascent, but the force is remarkably strong within them. There is a lot of promise and the innovations that we have been applying to the forefront of hypervisor evolution will soon be needed for the container ecosystem as well. As complex and stateful applications get migrated to the world of containers, the importance of snapshot, backup, restore, migration, conversions, replication, DR, data reduction, encryption, etc. will emerge to the forefront. The one-click simplicity of Prism will be required to fuel easy consumability of the technology.

The good news is that instead of having to reinvent virtual storage and virtual networking from scratch, containers will be able to quickly employ overlay networking and hyperconverged storage. This ability to leverage existing technologies will allow the definition of containers to remain lean and vendor-neutral and, as an industry, we will be able to avoid the monolithic lock-in that hypervisors got us into. THIS is what is exciting about the Open Container Initiative. As a part of the governance body of the OCI, Nutanix is committed to supporting common, minimal and open standards around container technologies that provides the industry a thriving platform for rapid interoperable innovation.

Further, the guiding principles of the OCI are in line with our mission to make infrastructure invisible through simple design, whether the runtime in the infrastructure is containers, VMs, containers within VMs, or all of the above. In the face of hybrid hypervisors (ESXi, HyperV, AHV), hybrid cloud (Private, AWS, Azure), and hybrid virtualization (VMs, containers), we are committed to bringing delightful simplicity to our users by abstracting and automating the underlying infrastructure while providing mobility between the various environments to liberate end users from lock-in.

The battle between public cloud and private cloud is happening, and the battle between VMs and containers will also be fought well, but the answer lies in embracing both in a common platform. We are excited to be part of the OCI and to enable our customers on their journey in this new world of hybrids.