Thursday Apr 09, 2009

VirtualBox 2.2 supports software appliances

Looks like the VirtualBox people keep chugging along (although if you're moving at 150mph, is it right to call it "chugging"?).  Yesterday I saw they've released version 2.2, which supports the Open Virtualization Format (OVF).  This is what I like about it: when I want to share my software configuration with somebody, I make a vbox image and give it to somebody, but then they have to know the vbox VM configuration I used.  That means they have to go into the vbox UI and manually set up the same settings I did.  It's not difficult, but it's error-prone and it's tedious.

No longer: now I just tell VirtualBox to create an appliance out of my vbox image and it creates two files: an OVF image and the OVF description of that image.  When my co-worker wants to use my appliance, she tells vbox to import that appliance (the OVF description) and it does the right thing.  No configuration, nothing: it's just ready to go.  Nice and easy.

Jignesh Shah tried it out yesterday and created a relatively small-footprint OVF appliance of PostgreSQL 8.3.

I think this is going to be the way to distribute software in the near future.  And if not the way, then a valid way.  Virtualized images solve a few problems that I can think of:
  1. You don't have to worry about which operating system the customer has deployed on their desktop or server; as long as they're running a hypervisor, you can deliver your software to them easily, nicely pre-packaged in a virtualized image "appliance";
  2. it eliminates the install step for trying software: you've already packaged up your app in an appliance, no installation needed for the customer just makes things simpler and faster for them to get rolling;
  3. The transition to cloud computing becomes easier; if you use a virtualized image on your desktop, you can use the same image on a cloud like Sun's cloud computing offering, Amazon EC2, or other clouds that I'm sure will come online over the next few years.  This gives customers the flexibility to run apps where they want, and to migrate to/from clouds.
JumpBox is one example of a company that provides open source applications in virtualized appliance format, but also lets you try their appliances right now, for free, on a cloud: it's JumpBox.  Nice idea.

TurnKey Linux seeems to be something similar; I haven't looked much into it yet so don't know if they offer the cloud preview feature that JumpBox provides, but they do have the download-an-app-in-a-virtualized-image feature.


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