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Red Hat meanders into hypervisor market

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Summit Red Hat is extremely late to the virtualization hypervisor party, but the company is confident that its reputation as a prominent Linux licenser will push the technology to even greater heights. Open source style.

The company announced its own embedded hypervisor and accompanying management console today at the Red Hat Summit in Boston. Both are available in beta right now.

Red Hat's new Linux hypervisor hosts both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Microsoft Windows operating systems. It's a lightweight piece of code that can fit on a 64MB flash drive. But rather than base the software on the open-source Xen hypervisor, Red Hat has chosen the KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) project, which is already used by the major Linux OSs as the default server virtualization package.

"And it's full featured, so we aren't going down a path of a minimalist capability embedded hypervisor feature set with a drive to get you to upgrade to a full-feature hypervisor as an upsell," said CEO Jim Whitehurst.

The virtual infrastructure manager, named oVirt, is a web-based virtual machine management console built using Ruby on Rails. Red Hat claims it's just dandy for running a single host with four VMs right on up to managing tens of thousands of VMs. And a thousand elephants!

So what does Red Hat's virtual push gave that VMware and Microsoft don't? Open source spirit, of course.

"Virtualization is the next generation operating system," said Paul Cormier, president of products and technologies. "Just as the operating system's evolution was open source, now it's virtualization technology. It's moving forward, and we think we're in the best position to bring it forward."

OK, then what about Citrix? Well, apparently Red Hat's offering is even more open source-ier.

"This is the first time a community has engaged in a collaborative model to build open source virtualization management. There are other open source managers out there, but there's not community collaboration around it."

Presently, Red Hat says the virtualization push won't compromise its relationship with Citrix. According Whitehurst, the company still intends to be directly involved with Xen.

So obviously it's taken Red Hat an extremely long time to realize that outside of Redmond, there aren't a lot of companies that can offer virtualization and an operating system in one package. Now it's a matter of whether that open source sparkle will actually attract the virtualization holdouts. And, equally important, Red Hat will need to convince the hardware OEMs to support yet another hypervisor. ®

Update

Red Hat's product marketing manager sat down with El Reg and explained how he sees the new hypervisor and manager duo taking their rightful place of the market so late in the game.

"If you look at the OEMs — what they don't want is to have one vendor dominating the market," said Cathrow. "Suddenly you'd have something like the Microsoft wars. They don't want to be controlled and owned by VMware."

Cathrow said Red Hat's hypervisor and manager are separate packages. OEMs that already have a strong management story such as IBM and HP can just use the hypervisor. If they want to use Red Hat's management too, then more power to them, he said.

"But Microsoft is coming to the market soon. The game is about to change."

"I think you'll see a lot of Microsoft customers preferring to deploy Hyper V because...they're Microsoft customers. But will Linux customers want to deploy virtual machines on a Microsoft hypervisor? I don't think so."

Cathrow said there will be a fracture in the market, with two or three major players remaining.

"Microsoft will be there because they're Microsoft. There's no stopping that train. And it's free with the OS."

"Meanwhile VMware is still coming in at — what — $4,000 for an enterprise license for a two socket machine? Suddenly that doesn't become quite as attractive. So I think you're going to see three solutions: Microsoft software, VMware is legacy and a Linux solution. And I believe you're going to see other Linux vendors following us on this one."

Cathrow also noted that Red Hat's virtualization work is purely in project mode at the moment, rather than a product.

"There's no point in being open source if you're not using the community," he said. But the solution is likely to arrive in product form by the end of 2008.

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