Herding Code 201: Kenji Obata on Spoon, application virtualization, containers, and flying little airplanes

Jon meets Kenji and Trevor at a small airfield in San Diego to talk about Spoon, an application containierization and streaming platform for Windows. They discuss different virtual machine approaches, Spoon’s features, the container movement, and flying airplanes.

Download / Listen: Herding Code 201: Kenji Obata on Spoon, application virtualization, containers, and flying little airplanes

Show Notes:

  • Application virtualization and Xenocode’s origins
    • (00:17) Jon says hi to Kenji and describes his first interaction with Kenji – a blog post he wrote in 2007 titled "We should be virtualizing Applications, not Machines" and Kenji’s response saying that’s exactly what they were doing at Xenocode. Kenji describes application virtualization and lists some of the vendors working in that space.
    • (1:51) Jon asks about the spectrum of virtualization – starting with virtualizing the entire machine and file system and dialing back. Kenji describes how Xenocode started with a solution that would allow for deploying .NET applications without requiring a separate .NET framework installation. This had minimal virtualization – just enough to virtualize the .NET framework.
    • (06:07) Kenji describes the work to move from virtualizing the .NET framework to supporting application virtualization for any arbitrary Windows application, culminating with virtualizing Office.
  • Moving from application virtualization to application streaming
    • (08:24) After solving virtualization for any Windows application, Xenocode moved on to tackling application delivery – solving long downloads, installation, and application conflicts. They also wanted to do this all over the web, which was the genesis of Spoon. This had a lot of appeal to business users rather than just coders, so they rebranded from Xenocode to Spoon.
    • (11:15) Jon asks about application streaming with the example of Office Click-to-Run. Kenji discusses Click Once and how that relates to MSI installers. While some application streaming solutions solve the problem of "click button, run application" they are still installing on the computer so you hit problems with conflicts between applications.
    • (13:20) Spoon applications are portable because they’re not installed on the local machine. Kenji and Jon discuss how installing an using an application start changing the state of the machine in many places outside of the application directory – registry, user profile, etc.
    • (14:30) Kenji describes how many of their enterprise customers have complex legacy applications which blend several technologies and don’t always follow best practices.
  • Docker and containers
    • (15:35) Kenji talks about how they’ve grown from looking at the smaller, targeted problem of virtualizing and deploying a single application to a holistic view of containers as a fundamental part of the development and deployment process.
    • (16:30) Kenji says that the excitement around Docker has got the community thinking more about application virtualization. Jon asks Kenji to explain how Docker-style virtualization is different from traditional virtual machine virtualization. Kenji explains how Docker was originally built on Linux lxc in which the kernel can segregate itself into several namespaces. Jon asks how it relates to file system virtualization, and Kenji says that since in Linux there’s an "everything is a file" philosophy, it’s easier to segregate things this way.
    • (18:10) Kenji says that there’s really no virtualization engine in Docker, it’s more of a set of scripting languages around Linux features. Kenji says that perhaps Docker’s biggest contribution is the term "container" since it’s more consumer-friendly and makes it more obvious that containerized applications are portable.
    • (19:55) Jon says that his experience with Spoon is that it felt like git for virtual machines. Kenji says that Docker actually uses git for storage. He explains how the storage needs of application virtualization lend themselves to git-like storage.
    • (21:44) Kenji says that containers on Windows are more difficult because there isn’t an lxc feature in the kernel. Fortunately, Spoon already has a vm engine that can provide that.
  • Advantages to running in user mode
    • (22:12) Kenji mentions that Spoon is running in user mode rather than kernel mode, and explains why it’s important to segregate and run child systems in user mode without any need for kernel access. Users don’t need any special privileges to install Spoon applications, and even if there are security issue in the virtualized applications, they’re always just running as an unprivileged user the host operating system.
  • Getting started with Spoon
    • (24:10) Jon talks about the user experience on Spoon.net – quick install with no permission prompts, and a console window pops up.
    • (25:24) Kenji points out that because Spoon started with virtualizing desktop applications, the Spoon container approach works well with any Windows application, including GUI applications.
  • Virtual networking features
    • (26:12) Jon asks how he can add add to a Spoon VM once he’s created it. Kenji points out one approach by spinning up another VM and connecting them using Spoon’s virtualized network feature. He talks about how you can use the virtual network features to point your application with multiple VM’s all using virtualized networking and the virtual DNS service.
    • (29:20) Jon talks about how virtual networking on other systems like Hyper-V can be problematic because it’s messing with the host operating system’s network adapters and networking configuration.
  • Spinning up multi-VM environments
    • (30:28) Jon says that all of these features sound really useful for testing, because he can spin up an entire environment, test it all, and delete it, all from a script. Kenji says they’ve put a lot of focus into those scenarios, and since Spoon VM’s are so lightweight that you can spin up 20 or 30 VM’s on a dev machine. He talks about a customer that has about 20 servers in their test environment and spins them all up for tests on a single host.
  • Selenium support and legacy Windows features
    • (32:42) Kenji says they have first class Selenium test grid support, allowing web developers to run automated web tests against a wide variety of operating systems and browsers. Jon asks how this works IE versions are tied to versions of Windows. Kenji talks about the Windows version support they’ve built into Spoon, allowing a Spoon host on Windows 8 to run every IE version back to IE6.
    • (34:37) Kenji talks about Windows version support and stacks and conditional layer support in Spoon to allow wiring in complex emulation behavior so you can deliver one image that will run on a variety of Windows hosts.
  • Working with images and state
    • (35:44) Jon asks about how the "spoon run dotnet,jdk,node,nginx" support works, and Kenji says you can use that to compose an arbitrary number of base images.
    • (36:36) Kenji says that they heard a lot of customers were bringing in git support to build a project that’s hosted in git, but they didn’t really want it in the image. They added another "using" primitive to allow you to use support from an image without adding it to the base VM.
    • (37:53) Jon asks how to add features to the Spoon VM after it’s been created, in the case that he really does want them there. Kenji says that I can just save the container’s state as an image, then build another container on top of that image. Images are static, containers are not.
    • (39:01) Kenji talks about the state abstraction, allowing you to continue from any saved state id. These move between different computers, which is helpful for testing and parallelization.
  • The Spoon.net hub and what you can do for free
    • (41:00) Kenji mentions the Spoon.net hub, which is free to use for public use – similar to GitHub. Jon asks about what’s available for free use, and Kenji says Spoon.net use is unlimited (within reason).
    • (42:01) Kenji explains how their previous version required their Spoon Studio tool to configure applications, similar to App-V sequencing. Things are simplified now with Spoon – you just grab a clean image, install software on it using the standard installers, and commit the image and you’re done.
    • (44:04) Kenji highlights the advantage of having the clean image readily available, so you can easily get a clean Windows install to try or test software – just by typing "spoon run clean".
  • Trying things with "spoon try"
    • (45:13) Jon says he likes to use VM’s to get a clean machine state, and also to be  try installing some software without risk. Kenji talks about the "spoon try" command, and explains how try automatically wipes all your state when you’re done (whereas spoon run maintains state).
  • Deployment options
    • (47:38) Jon asks how IT managers roll out Spoon solutions to their users. Kenji says they provide a set of tools to integrate with existing deployment models, including support for desktop icon registration, scripting, and the web interface to allow launching from intranets.
  • Size and performance impact
    • (49:00) Jon asks about the size of a Spoon VM. Kenji says it’s essentially just the size of the installed software and the state, so it’s pretty minimal. Storage is delta-based, so it’s small. The Spoon database includes de-duplication to allow for frequently saving state without bloat.
    • (51:01) Jon asks about the performance impact due to virtualizing everything. Kenji says that since the VM’s are so lightweight, it’s very minimal. He gives examples of high-performance users, including AutoCAD and video game developers.
  • Azure RemoteApp support
    • (52:29) Jon asks Kenji about something he saw on the site mentioning that Azure support was coming soon. Kenji gives us an exclusive scoop on the upcoming RemoteApp support. This allows you to create a single base VHD on Azure with just Spoon installed on it, then use Spoon’s support to host any application via RemoteApp. He says it’s great to be able to use RemoteApp support when he’s on his Mac to run any Windows applications he needs.
    • (56:53) Jon recommends for listeners to go to Spoon.net and try it in a few seconds for free.
  • Flying little airplanes
    • (57:21) Jon notes that they’re recording the podcast at an airfield and asks Kenji and Trevor about how they got into flying. Jon notes how high-tech the plane controls are and asks how it compares to Microsoft Flight Simulator. Kenji talks about the excitement and terror of his first takeoff.
    • (1:01:29) Kenji says that an easy way to give flying a try is to contact a flight school at your local airfield and set up an introductory flight for about $100 – $150 to give it a try.

Show Links: