An application combined with the environment needed to run it (operating system, libraries, compilers, databases, application containers, and so forth) is referred to as a “virtual appliance.” Packaging application environments in the shape of virtual appliances eases software customization, configuration, and patching and improves portability. Most commonly, an appliance is shaped as a VM disk image associated with hardware requirements, and it can be readily deployed in a hypervisor.

On-line marketplaces have been set up to allow the exchange of ready-made appliances containing popular operating systems and useful software combinations, both commercial and open-source. Most notably, the VMWare virtual appliance marketplace allows users to deploy appliances on VMWare hypervisors or on partners public clouds [30], and Amazon allows developers to share specialized Amazon Machine Images (AMI) and monetize their usage on Amazon EC2. In a multitude of hypervisors, where each one supports a different VM image format and the formats are incompatible with one another, a great deal of interoperability issues arises. For instance, Amazon has its Amazon machine image (AMI) format, made popular on the Amazon EC2 public cloud. Other formats are used by Citrix XenServer, several Linux distributions that ship with KVM, Microsoft Hyper-V, and VMware ESX.

In order to facilitate packing and distribution of software to be run on VMs several vendors, including VMware, IBM, Citrix, Cisco, Microsoft, Dell, and HP, have devised the Open Virtualization Format (OVF). It aims at being “open, secure, portable, efficient and extensible”. An OVF package consists of a file, or set of files, describing the VM hardware characteristics (e.g., memory, network cards, and disks), operating system details, startup, and shutdown actions, the virtual disks themselves, and other metadata containing product and licensing information. OVF also supports complex packages composed of multiple VMs (e.g., multi-tier applications).

OVF’s extensibility has encouraged additions relevant to management of data centers and clouds. Mathews et al. have devised virtual machine contracts (VMC) as an extension to OVF. A VMC aids in communicating and managing the complex expectations that VMs have of their runtime environment and vice versa. A simple example of a VMC is when a cloud consumer wants to specify minimum and maximum amounts of a resource that a VM needs to function; similarly the cloud provider could express resource limits as a way to bound resource consumption and costs.

Source of Information : Wiley - Cloud Computing Principles and Paradigms 2011


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