Today Ravello announced that their nested virtualization solution, widely known and acclaimed by VMware technologists, is now available as a bare metal service on Oracle Cloud. What does this announcement exactly means, and beyond technological aspects what are the benefits of this solution?
My regular readers may know about Ravello on Oracle Cloud, as I was invited to Ravello Blogger Day 1 and covered the topic in a comprehensive article. I suggest the reader to review that article as well to get some context. First and foremost, the reader might already know why Ravello is deploying these services on Oracle Cloud: Ravello was purchased by Oracle in 2016 so there should be no surprises on this side, even if Ravello is, if I’m still correct, still available on Google and AWS public cloud offerings.
Ravello’s HVX hypervisor used to run until now as an abstraction layer sitting at the top of the cloud provider stack, which meant that while functionality was present and working properly for testing or demonstration purposes, performance wasn’t in many cases good enough to run production systems. In fact, until now, Ravello was available either with software-assisted nested virtualization (the “original” Ravello) or with hardware-assisted nested virtualization, i.e. some CPU extensions would be presented directly to HVX, increasing speeds up to 14x compared to software-assisted nested virtualization. This was already a noticeable increase, but still not always enough to qualify as production-grade, especially for the most critical kind of workloads.
The Ravello team has been well aware of this shortcoming and has done tremendous work on HVX to port it from a Tier2 hypervisor into a Tier1 hypervisor, i.e. an hypervisor that executes directly on the physical hardware. This is a major milestone for Ravello and Oracle as it puts HVX, at least in theory, it in the same basket as ESXi, Xen/KVM & derivates, Hyper-V, Acropolis and so on.
More importantly, it means that Ravello is no longer impacted by the penalties of running nested virtualization. Instructions can be directly executed on the hardware layer and as such near-native performance is to be expected, making it a viable solution to execute production workloads, with Ravello claiming that performance improvements above 14x can be achieved compared with their initial offering.
The rationale for Lift & Shift
In my eyes, the Ravello offering fits best for “lift & shift” use cases, where you take portions of your infrastructure “as is”, lift it, and shift it to the cloud without making any changes (ideally) or only with the slightest of changes (change IP addresses for example). Lift & shift fits best for traditional or “legacy” applications. Let’s focus on why the lift & shift market is important in the cloud world.
One may wonder why certain vendors focus on “lift & shift” approaches while the world out there is all about building cloud-native applications, leveraging new storage and consumption concepts, and even diving in the “post-VM” era with containers or even the so-called “serverless” concepts.
While cloud acceptance is broad and has even become the default approach for a lot of consumers, the enterprise world is as usual slower and more conservative in its approaches. It has to bear the burden of legacy applications and years of incremental software/hardware/infrastructure upgrades, to which the addition of sometimes cumbersome processes doesn’t makes things easier. Add to this a generally cautious approach at big-bang like changes and a tendency to resist change because they could break things up and you get an overview of what makes it difficult to just throw away the reality of day-to-day operations. The sum of this imposes a progressive and pragmatic approach to how cloud services are consumed in enterprises.
Lift & shift approaches give enterprises two advantages:
- From a business perspective, the ability to adopt certain cloud benefits such as instant scaling of resources and pay-as-you-go consumption, while reducing costs associated with lifecycle refreshes, investment into hardware/support and associated environmental costs
- From a technical perspective, lift & shift allows to leverage cloud benefits without making any major changes to the application and infrastructure layers. No need to re-architect applications and networks; no need to convert virtual machines to the cloud format or re-install application on cloud instances
These are important adoption factors for enterprises and as such lift & shift offerings, even if they might not sound as exciting as their cloud native counterparts, are still very relevant in today’s IT world.
Beyond Lift & Shift: The Rationale for Oracle Ravello
Even before the Oracle era, Ravello has always been acclaimed by VMware technologists because it gave them the ability to build test environments at virtually no cost (pun intended), helping them to leverage the power and cost-effectiveness of public cloud offerings while completely abstracting the underlying technologies and providing them with a safe sandbox, similar to their on-premises data center, to experiment, build and test.
This has made Ravello very popular in the broader IT / data center / virtualization communities and made it as the de-facto gateway whenever someone needs to test something. Add to this the fact that not all IT personnel may be tech-savvy in operating in cloud environments. Not that people wouldn’t know how to sign-up and create a test VM on AWS or Google Cloud (or Oracle Cloud, for instance), but doing some experiments is one thing, while re-architecting a legacy application to run on the cloud is another thing. Ravello is thus an easy and known gateway for IT personnel to test lift & shift use cases without burning themselves while trying.
By the fate of markets and acquisition games, Ravello found itself, to some extent, in a competing environment with VMware and their VMware Cloud Foundation (a.k.a. VMware on AWS) offering. Until now, Ravello was confined to the world of non-production workloads, which were not such a threat, however with the entry into production-grade infrastructures, Ravello on Oracle Cloud may become a serious alternative to the game.
To my understanding, Ravello’s proprietary virtualization technology provides VMware VMs with an environment which allows them to operate as if they were running on a native VMware platform, allowing them to keep most if not all of their functionalities unhindered. I won’t deep-dive into the technical details, but there’s an important takeaway here: Ravello allows their customers to execute VMware VMs in a cloud-based VMware-compatible environment which is not operated by VMware software, i.e. without having to pay for VMware licenses.
In theory cost savings on VMware licensing can be expected thanks to this, even if it’s expectable that Oracle would integrate (or even absorb) Ravello licensing costs into their own pay-as-you-go model. On the other hand, and to be fair, customers choosing VMware Cloud Foundation as their lift & shift option would also benefit from a pay-as-you-go model, and VMware’s offering includes the latest VMware SDDC stack innovations including VSAN and NSX, which may or may not be a decisive factor for customers to adopt either one or another solution.
In fact, lift & shift may just be an interim period where customers want to save costs on infrastructure refreshes, while giving themselves to prepare the transition to cloud-native applications, so in that scenario the researched business outcome might just be maintaining the technological status quo while achieving CAPEX savings.
Technical merits from one or another solution aside, it is therefore and as always up to customers to test both offerings and see which better fits their match in terms of costs, technology interoperability and expected technical & business outcomes.
This is a timely move for Oracle and Ravello. As VMware Cloud Foundation was announced to be Generally Available at VMworld in Last Vegas, this announcement from Ravello means customers are given more choice for their lift & shift initiatives. With more choice comes more freedom and hopefully also better pricing alternatives.
From a market perspective, Oracle are opening themselves to more business opportunities in the lift & shift area with the added ability to target traditional VMware-based on-premises data centers not only in the previously available areas of test/dev and non-production workloads, but now as well in the very lucrative area of production and eventually business-critical workloads.
While this announcement might not be an immediate menace for VMware who are positioning themselves as a software giant while still capitalizing on their dominance above the on-premises traditional IT business, it is still a major announcement from Oracle and a strong argument in favor of their serious commitment to the cloud. This announcement will undoubtedly deliver added value to discussions that Oracle may be having with enterprises and boost their credibility when discussing cloud migration options.