Startup Ravello Pitches Nested Virtualization As Way To Solve Tough Cloud Challenges

Moving apps and workloads from one vendor's cloud to another is a tricky and time-consuming process, but Ravello Systems, a startup founded by the creators of the KVM hypervisor, says it has developed a faster, easier way to do it.

Ravello Systems uses nested virtualization -- in which a hypervisor runs inside a virtual machine -- to move workloads from VMware private clouds to Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform public clouds, without requiring apps to be rebuilt.

Ravello, Palo Alto, Calif., recently signed up 888 Holdings, an online gaming company based in Gibraltar with some 20 million users worldwide, as a customer. It's using Ravello to test apps on AWS and port over VMs, networking, load balancers and routing configurations, Navin Thadani, senior vice president of products at Ravello, said in an interview Monday.

Another Ravello customer recently moved an app with 278 VMs from its data center to AWS, including complex networking with VLANs, F5 load balancers and Fortinet firewalls, said Thadani.

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Ravello also takes the networking and storage associated with workloads and ports them over to other clouds using software-defined networking, Thadani said.

[Related: VMware Tells Its Salespeople Microsoft Won't Be Running VMware On Azure Anytime Soon]

Ravello now has enterprises moving production workloads using its technology, according to Thadani. "We think of this as a next-generation virtual infrastructure that sits on top of public clouds," he said.

Red Hat uses Ravello to run its OpenStack/KVM, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization/KVM, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and OpenShift offerings on AWS for partner training purposes.

Nested virtualization has been around for a while now, but it could be getting a lot more attention in the future.

Sources told CRN last month that Microsoft is adding support for nested virtualization in its next version of Windows Server, which is due early next year, and may also use it to let VMware-based workloads run on Azure.

If that comes to pass, Thadani said it would be a "good validation" for Ravello's model.

One big benefit of nested virtualization is that customers can create a public cloud replica of the physical environment they're using in production, said Michael Clarkson, president of Flakjacket, a Castle Rock, Colo.-based consultancy that does Linux-related training for Red Hat, Cloudera and Hortonworks customers.

AWS doesn't support nested virtualization, but customers can use Ravello to run another hypervisor or Docker container inside of EC2 VMs, Clarkson told CRN. When rolling out a new app, a customer could use Ravello to avoid buying new hardware for its testing and development teams, he added.

NEXT: Performance The Key Question With Nested Hypervisors

One issue with nested hypervisors is that running a hypervisor inside a VM can affect performance. Thadani said this only impacts workloads that need lots of I/O performance, and acknowledged that this can decrease performance by up to 20 percent.

For compute-intensive workloads, however, the overhead introduced by nested virtualization is close to zero he said. And for networking-intensive workloads, Ravello's nested hypervisor can actually increase performance because multiple VMs in a workload can run on the same cloud.

Ravello is one of many examples of a VMware partner that sells technology that is in some ways competitive. VMware pitches its vCloud Air as an easy path to the public cloud and would prefer that customers choose that offering over AWS.

However, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger told partners in a private Q&A session last month that VMware is working on a way to move workloads back and forth between AWS. Thadani wouldn't comment on whether Ravello is involved in this effort.

Microsoft is working on a way for VMware workloads to run on Azure, sources told CRN last month. Thadani said Ravello is talking with Microsoft but said it's "too early" to comment on the specifics of those discussions.

In any event, if nested virtualization fulfills its promise, Ravello could be well positioned as one of the first vendors to tout how the technology can create a smooth path for workloads to move back and forth between different clouds.