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Red Hat is going up against Novell by beefing up its support for Xen's hypervisor, bringing virtualization technology to a "mass market."

Red Hat rolled out executives and industry partners on Tuesday morning to announce Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.0 will "tightly integrate" Xen by the end of the year, with migration and assessment services for customers planned this summer. Xen integration will be previewed in the Fedora Core 5.0 this month.

AMD and Intel joined Red Hat on stage at a press event in San Francisco to announce they are participating in development and testing to ensure their rival processors work with the new Red Hat environment. (VMware did not receive a mention.)

Fedora Core 4.0 already features Xen, but Red Hat said the new goal is for integration from management tools and installation to software management, so customers can use virtualization with any application, instead of selected applications.

Brian Stevens, Red Hat's chief technology officer, called the previous offer a "pretty arduous environment" not suited to regular users' needs because of the engineering work needed to get it working. "It was more developer focused than user focused," Stevens said. "With Fedora 5, little is needed in helping top-shelf developers. We are working out how to get it out to the masses."

Red Hat's "mass market" strategy will apparently be assisted through its pricing strategy. Price has yet to be finalized, but Red Hat's executive vice president of enterprise solutions Tim Yeaton said it was unlikely Red Hat would price by instance and would probably price by platform or use. Red Hat would presumably only be charging some kind of integration fee anyway, since anyone can grab the open source Xen software.

"We want to encourage customers to adopt [this] in as broad a way as possible. We'll make it easy to consume and use as much as possible," Yeaton said.

The Xen code allows customers to slice up their Linux servers to run multiple versions of the OS and applications. It competes with more mature products from market leader VMware and Microsoft. While Xen itself is free, companies hope to sell management packages on top of it.

While it's working on integration to improve the user experience, Red Hat has ruled out providing its own software to manage the virtualized environment. Instead, Red Hat is preparing to leave other management software providers to full fill this role. "There's no way we are going to build a stack of a management platform. There are too many models and choices," Stevens said.

Red Hat's conversion to virtualization comes as rival Novell prepares to release SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 10, which also features a Xen hypervisor. Novell, hosting its annual BrainShare jamboree next week in Utah's Salt Lake City, is expected to beat Red Hat out of the virtualization blocks by shipping SLES 10 this spring.

Stevens said Red Hat is working "closely" with XenSource, the commercial spinout from the community's Xen project, to optimize Xen and "working on" a business relationship. Areas of potential work include debuggers and profile analysis.

XenSource's recently appointed vice president of business development Frank Artale said XenSource is keen to work with Red Hat, but stressed it is also working with other vendors. XenSource wants relationships with a broad number of platform providers who can help refine hypervisor for mass-market adoption.

Artale, a former Microsoft director of program management who helped harden Microsoft's old Windows NT kernel, said: "Only an operating system vendor can test the enterprise stack from top to bottom. Having the Xen open source hypervisor as par of the RHEL 5.0 release train is vital to building the quality of the Xen hypervisor."®

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