The formal launch of Fujitsu-Siemens' FlexFrame environment for SAP may seem to make a strange bedfellow for VMware's VMWorld conference and exhibition in Cannes this week. But it transpires it is an appropriate launch location, as one of the important sub-texts of the system is the way it identifies the need for an agnostic platform running all the leading virtualization hypervisors.
The FlexFrame approach is built around creating a pre-engineered environment for a major application suite. The company already has a FlexFrame capable of running Oracle-based applications, and others will follow this introduction of the SAP implementation. It provides an operating environment for both the core application and the users' specific applications and implementations. This includes the hypervisor needed to run on a virtualized environment, and it is here that the agnosticism is being required.
Though VMware is certainly the dominant provider of virtualization, particularly at the server end of the infrastructure, Fujitsu-Siemens is well aware that virtualization is already a heterogeneous world. For example, while VMware is the leading hypervisor for the corporate datacentre, many businesses have branch offices that require Microsoft's Hyper-V, not least because the majority of their applications are Windows-based. FlexFrame therefore has to be able to integrate with both of them—indeed all leading hypervisors. The one thing it definitely wants to avoid is participate in either creating new silos of virtualization, or finding itself caught in one.
FlexFrame, therefore, has been built on the assumption that no applications or services will any longer be installed in a fixed way, tied to a specific server. So it maps the complete applications environment to the servers the IT department allocates to it. This means it can be delivered to users as a pre-engineered software package or, if this meets the users' needs, as the equivalent of a very large and complex appliance, delivered as a packaged system. It also allows users to move SAP instances between physical and virtual environments as required.
This opens up some interesting possibilities, particularly as a tool for systems integrators. The company claims to have 10 or more large early adopters in this space, starting to build applications on FlexFrame, which means they then get the potential to port their specialist intellectual property in a marketplace or domain directly on to user systems, and do it far faster and more consistently than the traditional model of hand-engineering each implementation as a bespoke entity. This is what Fujitsu-Siemens calls the industrialization of business software and services.
As well as the SIs this should be of growing interest to service providers in the hosted services marketplace. It may even be possible to see some systems integrators industrializing to the point of combining the FlexFrame approach with the datacentre-in-a-container idea—dropping the container outside the existing datacentre as an instant add-on.
In both cases, however, what this will require is hypervisor agnosticism, which in turn demonstrates why there is now a need for a number of different standards across virtualization and the wider Exostructure business. Without them, we may well be left with just the latest version of silos of technology, which is in no-one's interests.
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