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VMware vApps – Where do they fit in the vCloud?

June 30th, 2009

Virtual Appliances have been around for quite some time now and it seems with the recent release of vSphere, VMware are looking to take vApps to the next level. The VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace (VAM) is the one stop shop providing VMware users with a plethora of pre-configured, ready to download appliances.  There are over a 1000 appliances available in the VAM, all of them capable of being deployed in either the private cloud or in a cloud hosted by a 3rd party.  Now the VAM is also offering on-demand trails of certain vApps through selected vCloud partners.  The vCloud vision is slowly taking shape and and although it may be mostly conceptual now, small steps like this are the real building blocks.

With the release of vSphere 4.0 VMware introduced full support for the OVF 1.0 specification.  What does this mean?  well the Open Virtualisation Format is a platform independent, efficient, extensible, and open packaging and distribution format for virtual machines.  It’s virtual platform independent so if vSphere isn’t your platform of choice the vApp will work with Hyper-V and XenServer. OVF virtual machines are optimised for easy distribution are simple to deploy and support single and multi VM configurations.

Now I spend a lot of my time integrating and supporting applications from 3rd party vendors,  some of them mainstream and some of them more specialist. One of the constant issues I have is around how best to deploy them,  what are the best practices, minimum specifications and correct configurations to ensure successful deployment and reliable operation.  This is something I can see vApps helping all of us with, vApps created using the OVF format will allow vendors to build and maintain pre-packaged systems. Pre-configured to be highly compatible, built to the vendors own best practices and best of all built for rapid deployment to customers regardless of virtualised platform or cloud prefernce. The way I look at it,  it’s not to disimilar to Apple’s approach to controlling the hardware and the software they use. The way Apple operate allows them to guarantee better reliability and compatibility because they know what they’re deploying and what they’re deploying it on. A vendor built vApp has the potential to offer the same benefits and simplify the job of vendors, system integrators and application support teams alike.

So how are VMware assisting vendors in their pursuit of vApp bliss? With the creation of VMware Studio of course,  It was a product I’d never heard of until the beta release of VMware Studio 2.0 was announced earlier this month. The latest features are listed below.

Build vApps and virtual appliances (with in-guest OS and application components) compatible with VMware Infrastructure, VMware vSphere 4.0 and the cloud

- Support for OVF 1.0 and 0.9
- Available as an Eclipse plugin in addition to the standalone version
- Ability to accept existing, Studio-created VM builds as input
- Support for 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Windows 2003 and 2008 Server
- Support  for SLES 10.2, RHEL 5.2 and 5.3, CentOS 5.2 and 5.3 and Ubuntu 8.0.4.1
- Publish patches to update deployed virtual appliances
- Extensible in-guest management framework
- Automatic Dependency resolution
- VMware ESX, ESXi, Vmware Server 1.0.4 – 2.0, VMware Workstation enabled as         provisioning engines.
- Infrastructure enhancements in the GUI and builds

So what does a vApp deployment look like,  well here’s a video that was posted on the VMware vApp developer blog.  In this demo a user deploys a mulit VM, multi-tiered version of SugarCRM in just a few clicks with no need to even start up a VM Console. 

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