Virtualisation technology is about to take one more step forward, if Sun's announcement that it plans to integrate Solaris containers for Linux applications bears fruit. The feature is, said Sun, designed to allow organisations to run Red Hat binaries unmodified in containers on the Sun OS by year end. Additionally, Sun has demonstrated virtual Solaris in a Xen wrapper.
So far, the most advanced type of virtualisation -- in terms of offering the best performance -- has been provided by products such as VMware ESX Server, whose hypervisor technology does away with the need for an underlying or host OS. But among the most common virtualisation scenarios is running multiple copies of an OS -- often Linux for licence cost containment reasons -- which on servers is usually motivated by the need to provide isolation between applications.
Sun has taken that a step further with the announcement of containers. This means that, instead of having to run a virtualised OS in order to support a particular application, instead Solaris users will be able to run the applications directly inside Solaris. It's akin to FreeBSD jails, also containers, whose development was driven by need of service providers to isolate users and their applications from each other for security and billing purposes.
This technique eliminates the need for a separate OS for the application and is enabled by the use of x86 as a common platform: without that widespread architectural commonality, Sun's containers wouldn't have been developed. And as we've seen from companies such as Transitive Corporation, whose Quick Transit technology is to be the enabler for Apple's migration from IBM Power to Intel x86 next year, it's a technology with a wide range of applications. When Intel's VT chips, which offer support for virtualisation in hardware, appear next year, the lines between application and OS will blur even further, as the hardware hit from virtualisation will become even smaller.
The OS as platform is about to become irrelevant -- it's x86 that's important.