VMware "thinking about" open sourcing its hypervisor

VMware is kicking the tires on an open-source hypervisor while its attention is mostly consumed with defining the next generation of virtualization.

As reported by NetworkWorld, VMware CEO Paul Maritz suggested at VMworld that VMware has "thought about whether we want to open source ESX," the company's leading hypervisor, but provided no substance as to whether or not the company were inclined in that direction.

Instead, the former Microsoft executive paid lip service to open source's model for encouraging third-party participation in development.

That's OK, as his attention is not focused on the license and development model for ESX, but rather on what his customers should expect from the next generation of virtualization. Though Maritz was cagey about a forthcoming VMware technology as an "operating system" (OS), it seems clear that this is, in fact, what VMware is building, as ITworld describes. In response to a direct question as to VMware's plans to build an OS, Maritz equivocated:

Yes and no, it depends what you mean by an operating system. It is an operating system in the following sense. It abstracts away application loads from the underlying infrastructure, like traditional operating systems do, but the application loads it handles are different. This is drawing a line at a different point in the hierarchy.

It has many parallels with an OS, in the sense that it has APIs and services, but it is not a traditional OS. What we expect is that people will increasingly use the services of the virtual data center OS to construct new types of application loads that will fulfill the capabilities that you see in traditional operating systems.

In other words, it fills the needs of an OS. If it looks like an OS, smells like an OS, and walks like an OS, it's probably safe to start calling it an OS.

Interesting times, and though I think VMware would discover strategic advantages to making ESX open source, that may be more than the company wants to take on right now, in the midst of defining its next-generation OS. One revolution at a time....

That said, Red Hat and others with open-source virtualization strategies aren't sitting still, and are increasingly cutting into VMware's once-cozy business. VMware may ultimately have little choice in the matter: it may get dragged into open source, a prospect far less enticing than adopting open source from a position of strength.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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