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Hypervisor startup is virtualizing virtualization

Startup Ravello Systems launched a hypervisor this week that sits on top of other hypervisors.

A perceived nirvana of cloud computing is being able to take an application that's running on your premise and spin it up in the cloud, without making any changes to the code. Ravello says it can do that with its application hypervisor, which sits on top of virtual machines to allow portability of apps and VM images. Basically, Ravello is virtualizing virtualization.

Company executives have extensive experience: The three top execs served as vice president of engineering, vice president of business development and manager of the virtualization business line at Red Hat. Ravello has received hefty backing too, with $26 million of funding committed from Sequoia Capital, Norwest Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners.

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Navin Thadani, senior vice president of products for Ravello, says enterprises are not able to effectively use the cloud today. If a developer wants to spin up an app they've built on site in the public cloud, too often it requires significant changes to the code. "The cloud has all different VMs, different networking from their own data centers," he explains. That doesn't allow for easy migration to the cloud.

Ravello's software analyzes the application and "normalizes" it so that it is abstracted from the virtual machine it's running on. The application hypervisor, named HVX, in essence records the qualities of the apps and recreates them in a new environment with all the same qualities and attributes. Virtualizing the application by abstracting it from the underlying VM it's running on allows the app to be more portable. The app will not know the difference whether it's running on a VMware hypervisor or an open source KVM. "Unlike other hypervisors, this wasn't designed to run on a physical x86 server, it was designed specifically to run in another VM," Thadani says.

Ravello has a drag-and-drop graphic user interface (GUI) that allows customers to deploy their app to public clouds from Amazon, Rackspace and HP. Once the app is running in the cloud, developers can clone the app to test out changes without them being launched in production. The developer can bring the app back in-house using the same process.

There are some tradeoffs to the approach, the biggest being performance lags. Some IT pros don't like running apps in virtual environments because of the performance hit that running it through a hypervisor creates. Having a second hypervisor on top of the virtual machine could exacerbate the issue. Ravello says that's why initial versions have targeted test and development environments.

Cloud analyst Krishnan Subramanian of Rishidot Research says it's a promising technology that addresses a chief roadblock for enterprise cloud users. "Migrating applications from one environment to another can be a really complex process," he says. One of the biggest concerns enterprises have is being locked into their cloud provider and not being able to easily migrate out of the cloud. Systems like Ravello, if it works, can "make the cloud a lot more palatable."

Ravello launched its application hypervisor in a free public beta this week.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.


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