What PaaS means to virtualization

Over the next few years, we expect to see a tremendous focus on technologies to help isolate applications and workloads within a virtual machine. This is a bit of a controversial topic because in the minds of many, that is exactly what virtualization is geared to do. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of virtualization, but I think it’s merely one weapon in the challenge of increasing efficiency and utilization – not the silver bullet. I also believe that the next battle of efficiency and utilization is going to occur in the Platform as a Service (PaaS) space. To achieve the highest levels of efficiency yourself is a challenging undertaking, but consuming these new tools via a PaaS is easier. In this post I’m going to try and demystify what is going on under the hood of the best PaaS offerings out there.

First let’s take a look at the past to make sure we all start on the same page. In the olden days (i.e. pre Y2K), the most common situation was to have a single piece of hardware, that ran a single operating system and a single application. Given the commodity hardware on the market, this worked really well. In most companies, when you wanted a new application deployed, you bought a new piece of hardware and installed that application on it. Pretty simple.

In the following years though, things started changing. First, more companies started depending on IT for a competitive edge. This drove most investment into IT, but also more scrutiny on how IT was spending its money. Improving the utilization of your machines became a pretty hot topic. At the same time, hardware was improving at a ridiculous pace. The model of installing a single application per physical piece of hardware was getting wasteful. More often that not, this approach wasn’t even using 10% of the hardware capabilities. Whether you were a Silicon Valley startup or a Fortune 100 company, you didn’t want 90% of your investment just sitting there.

Then, virtualization entered into the equation. Virtualization allowed a complete abstraction between the operating system and the actual hardware that it was running on. This allowed a single piece of hardware to run lots of operating system instances. Without changing any of the applications, companies could now take racks of machines and consolidate them all onto a single piece of hardware. Hardware that once sat lonely and idle, barely waking up to process their requests was now sweating under the load.

These days though, virtualization is commonplace. Virtualized infrastructures are no longer a differentiator, they are an expectation. And with Infrastructure as a Service providers (IaaS), you can get virtual machines in seconds, with impressive pricing. Now that everyone has access to this technology and anyone can achieve that first big jump in utilization, what is going to separate you from the pack?

What is going to make you stand out is your understanding of how to squeeze every drop of performance out of each virtual machine. If you are still running a single virtual machine for every application in your environment, you might be achieving great utilization (i.e. your machines are sweating like crazy) but you are probably wasting a lot more than you should. This approach was required at first because the tooling to properly segment lots of different applications on a single machine just wasn’t there. That’s not the case anymore. With the advances in Linux with technologies like Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux), Kernel Namespaces and Linux Control Groups, it’s time to re-evaluate how we are doing stuff.

So how does all this relate to Platform as a Service (PaaS)? Just like IaaS offerings such asĀ Amazon AWS made virtualization available to everyone, the vast majority of users are going to harness these new levels of efficiency through Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings. PaaS offerings, like Red Hat’s OpenShift PaaS, are built on top of virtualization and exist to make both developers and operations more productive.

While I can’t speak for all the PaaS offerings out there, I can say that OpenShift exists to tweak and tune everything possible to help make each virtual machine as effective as possible. At the same time, we strive to make all those gory details invisible to the developers. Since we are built on an open source technology stack, the ability to do it yourself is there and I would encourage you to check out OpenShift Origin and get engaged if you are interested in the technology that is going to make virtualization even more powerful.