Interview: Martin Maurer from Proxmox
I've been aware of Proxmox VE for a couple of years now. I've installed it a few times and tested it out. I have recommended it to others and know a few local people using it in production (at MSU-Bozeman and Rocky Mountain College for example). Since I'm involved in the OpenVZ community I've also noticed some of the contributions to OpenVZ that have come from Proxmox VE (vzdump for example) and have run into Martin Maurer in the comments section of this site. I asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview and he accepted.
What is Proxmox VE?
Proxmox VE is a very light-weight Debian-based distribution that includes a kernel with support for both KVM and OpenVZ. This means you get the best of both virtualization worlds... containers (OS Virtualization) and fully-virtualized machines (Machine Virtualization). Proxmox VE also includes a very powerful yet easy to use web-based management system with clustering features. Boot the Proxmox VE install media, answer a few simple questions, and within 10 minutes you have a very powerful virtualization platform you can manage from a web browser. Install it on one or more additional machines that are networked together and use Proxmox VE's cluster management tool to create a virtualization cluster that allows for centralized management, automated backups, iso media and template syncing, as well as virtual machine migration features. Proxmox VE really is a time saving turnkey solution... and it is freely available under a GPL license.
Proxmox the company and the developers
ML: Please tell me about your company. How did it get started? Where did the name Proxmox come from? Where is it located? What products do you offer?
Martin: Proxmox was founded in 2005 but the team behind it has been working together since 1999 developing software and doing server administration (mainly Linux but also others). The reason for starting a new company in 2005 was the introduction of our Proxmox Mail Gateway product which we sell worldwide via partners. Proxmox VE became our second product. We sell support services to those who want them and will be extending the offerings, step by step, as the demand grows.
The name? Yes, that is a commonly asked question. I enjoy mountain climbing and on a never ending long uphill it just hit my brain. I returned from the trip and typed "Proxmox" into Google and got NO returns. So it was clear that I found a new name, registered everything and the rest is history.
Our office is in the city of Vienna that has a population of 1.7 million people. Austria is not known as a big open source country but there are a lot of really experienced Linux developers around. Just think of Linbit (developers of DRBD) - they are just a few miles away.
ML: Feel free to tell me a little bit about you. What is your history with Linux?
Martin: Dietmar (my brother and CTO at Proxmox) is a Linux developer from the early beginning. He started with programming a Commodore VIC-20 (oh, we are getting old), and later moved as everyone did to the C64. After that he invested all of his money in an Amiga 1000, eventually moving on to the first i386 PC. In 1996 Debian arrived in the community and he got infected with the exciting open source idea and since then Debian has become the most important OS for us. Dietmar worked and contributed on such well known projects like Gnome or Mono (in the team from Miguel de Icaza at Ximian) before we started Proxmox.
About me: I did a lot of IT project management before Proxmox, working also with non-Linux systems. This helped a lot to see what is going on and which software is the best solution for each situation - including firewalls, groupware, ERP, trouble ticket systems, databases.
ML: What virtualization products have you used at Proxmox?
Martin: Our Proxmox Mail Gateway is certified for VMware, also known to work quite well on Citrix Xen, formerly certified for Virtuozzo, and of cource certified for KVM and OpenVZ. We also test it against Virtualbox, Hyper-V, Virtual Iron (later bought by Oracle and killed).
We are doing a lot of testing and this helped a lot finding the best way to run Linux servers like our Mail Gateway - which is in most cases container virtualization like OpenVZ.
ML: What is Proxmox Mail Gateway and how does it differentiate itself?
Martin: Everybody knows the basic features, spam and virus filtering - but there are some unique features like the mail tracking center, the HA Cluster, the rule system and the ability to run well on almost any flavor of virtualization technologies. While it is available as a bare-metal ISO installer, we also offer it in a virtualization appliance form that runs perfectly on Proxmox VE and is directly available in the appliance downloader area of the Proxmox VE web interface. A lot of companies just run it under their existing VMware environment.
ML: How did you get involved with OpenVZ?
Martin: In the beginning we just tested OpenVZ as all new Linux technologies and found it very useful - we moved all our internal servers to OpenVZ which maximized resources. In order to backup/restore, we developed vzdump. Then the GUI was missing - so we started on Proxmox VE.
ML: How did you get involved with KVM?
A: We had already started Proxmox VE (OpenVZ only) when KVM becomes usable. Dietmar always used it for testing, because it is easy to use and small. KVM development continued to progress at an incredible speed so we decided to include it in Proxmox VE.
In the beginning some people asked why we chose KVM rather than Xen but now most realize that going with KVM was the right decision.
ML: Please tell me about Proxmox VE?
Martin: Proxmox VE is the most exciting project we have done thus far. It has so many different aspects for which we use all our experience and knowledge - it is just fun to see the community growing day by day.
It is amazing how people contribute, e.g. doing testing, giving feedback and translating the web gui. Just this week we got Polish and Vietnamese, so we have 18 languages and others are in progress.
ML: Why did you decide to create Proxmox VE?
Martin: We thought that we could create a very unique product offering. We also needed a GUI for OpenVZ. Additionally, we needed to run some Windows servers and there are a lot of companies with similar needs.
No other company or open source project had ever bundled all these together in one package under GPL. While there are a few others doing some of the pieces, none of them are in the Proxmox style.
ML: Why did you decide to open it up and offer it as FOSS rather than an internal only product?
Martin: There are many reasons but the most important is the fast access to core technologies. Without using all the available open source technologies it is not possible to engineer a product like Proxmox VE in such a small amount of time.
Open source helped us reduce the time to market and improved the quality due to a much larger userbase. Customers do not have to pay licensing fees - they just need to install. If they need help, they can fix it directly in the code, ask the community for free or they can pay someone to help, e.g. our partners in the support area.
ML: What is your business plan for Proxmox VE? Do you make money from it? Offer paid support?
Martin: Currently we still invest a lot in Proxmox VE. Some money comes from the IPA (the organization doing the domain registry for *.at domains) to support open source projects. Some users have donated money to equip our test labs with more hardware.
In the future, paid support will cover more and more of the development - but this will be optional.
ML: How does Proxmox VE differ from other virtualization products?
Martin: I see three main advantages compared to the "free" and commercial products from others:
1. We can use the best OS virtualization stacks available - we have containers and full virtualization on one host
2. Extremely fast deployment for new installations as we deliver a bar-metal installer, a kernel with up-to-date hardware drivers (we include a lot of backports), a full Debian system and the web-based management tools, including access to SAN storage, and not to forget, the online backup tool (vzdump). All of this is easily installed in about 5 minutes.
3. GPL License: access to source code, developers can join and add their code if it fits. open standards, future proof.
ML: Does Proxmox VE use libvirt? If not, why not?
Martin: We do not use libvirt. libvirt is written in C and contains large parts we will never use. With perl, we can do the same in ten times less code and time. Therefore development is much faster without libvirt.
ML: What exactly is a virtual appliance and how does it differ from a standard OpenVZ OS Template?
Martin: A standard template is more or less a minimal operating system. A virtual appliance is a ready to run system. E.g. if you start our Proxmox Mail Gateway you can just click on the IP address and a new browser window opens directly to the web interface of the Mail Gateway - in just a few seconds you can deploy it. I have never seen this anywhere else. The other virtual appliances work in the same way - Joomla, Mediawiki, Wordpress, Acquia, etc.
Next year we will also include KVM appliances (hopefully we can find the time to do it).
ML: What is DAB?
Martin: DAB stands for "Debian Appliance Builder" which is our appliance builder for OpenVZ which is an easy to use tool to create high quality appliances. It differs from existing builder tools in that it supports multi-stage building of templates. That way you can execute arbitrary scripts between package installation steps to accomplish what you want. Also, the tool does create unique keys, a mysql database root password and so on.
Furthermore, some common tasks are fully automated - like setting up a database server (mysql or postgres).
We released DAB to the community and quite a few community members have picked it up and released their own appliances. Currently DAB only works for Debian based systems like Ubuntu and Debian.
Future of Proxmox VE
ML: Do you have any plans to support additional virtualization technologies?
Martin: Yes. We have a promising LXC-containers prototype. LXC still lacks some features, but we are sure this will be a valuable addition.
ML: You recently released Proxmox VE 1.4 beta1. What is new in the 1.4 series?
The most exciting change is the storage model (for KVM only). Now you can use NFS/iSCSI/FC or even DRBD to store disk files and using live-migration is really cool. KVM is now production ready which is especially useful for anyone who wants to run Windows.
ML: What major features are you planning for the next major release?
ML: The new storage model (in 1.4 beta1) does not support OpenVZ. Are there plans to support it? What are the technical challenges in implementing it?
Martin: We talked with OpenVZ team leader (Kir) about extending OpenVZ in the way we needed but they are not yet interested in actively work on this. Or more precisely, they do not have the resources and their userbase has not requested this heavily enough yet. Going it alone, without the support of OpenVZ, is not desired. We are already sitting on some very useful patches (initlog) that have not gotten included in OpenVZ - this is quite painful for many reasons.
OpenVZ works very well on local storage which is still available in Proxmox VE, so I see little pressure to have this immediately. We can start working on that as soon as there is some interest/support from the OpenVZ team.
ML: On the road map you have high availability. What will that look like (programs used, physical setup of boxes)?
Martin: Already mentioned above, we will use corosync and pacemaker. At the end the user can build up a highly available virtual environment with two or more physical servers.
ML: I don't know if it would ever happen or not, but how would you feel if someone worked on Proxmox VE and made it available as a package set that could be added to other Linux distributions?
Martin: All packages are available so anybody can just do that. Besides, it is an incredible amount of work to do all the testing and to support other systems - without getting any real benefit.
One big advantage is that we have a well defined 'environment' (Debian Lenny). This makes support much easier. If you go through our community forum you will see extremely short answer times - and most of the time not just a response - but already the solution.
So I am not fearful of that scenario, this is how open source works. I appreciate that other developers have already joined and contributed code. Some OpenVZ panels have already integrated vzdump. We also released vzdump rpms for Red Hat/CentOS systems. I see no problem here for us.
ML: Any idea on the userbase size of Proxmox VE? How many users how many and virtual machines?
Martin: We have around 4,000 Proxmox VE servers today, the number of virtual machines is just a guess - around 50,000.
Community Forums: We have around 1,700 forum users and 11,000 posts.
All figures are growing fast these days.
ML: I know a number of people who use Proxmox VE in a production environment and they have been very happy with it. Any closing comments?
Martin: Yes, there are a lot of production systems, also on quite big servers (4 CPU socket servers, 6 cores). The virtualization market is still growing fast and using open source software gets more and more interesting for a growing customer base.
ML: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.