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Will Red Hat come back to haunt the Open Virtualization Alliance?

IBM and friends RHEV anti-VMware crusade

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Open...and Shut In an attempt to cripple VMware's lead in enterprise virtualization, a posse of tech leaders decided to band together behind Red Hat's KVM in the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA), announced this Wednesday.

The irony, however, is that these same companies may come to rue their propping up of an already strong competitor, one they've already proved incapable of controlling in the Linux market.

Though OVA includes HP, Intel, IBM, and others, the reality is that it's all about Red Hat and its KVM technology. While Red Hat vice president Scott Crenshaw is quick to argue that "everybody wants an open alternative to VMware," this isn't necessarily true. Customers, for example, have been buying heavily from VMware. Red Hat's KVM, according to Gartner, has a market share of less than 1 per cent.

Red Hat, in other words, wants an open alternative to VMware. The other OVA members OVA simply don't want VMware around.

So consider OVA to be a "committee [that] boils down to following Red Hat" in its aim to dislodge VMware's hold on enterprise virtualization, as eWeek's Jason Brooks notes This isn't a bad thing: the market will undoubtedly be better for having a solid open source choice.

The problem is that it already does, and that choice is Red Hat.

True, it still has a tiny fraction of the overall market, but Red Hat's virtualization momentum has been growing at an accelerating pace, as the company reports each quarter. Red Hat already dominates enterprise Linux, and is finding more and more success cross-selling Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) to existing as well as new customers.

All of which makes OVA a tricky game for all of its participants to play – except Red Hat, of course.

If OVA is successful, its members may find themselves wanting to usurp VMware's usurper, just as years ago they rallied to the United Linux flag in an attempt to dethrone Red Hat.

That didn't work so well, now did it?

But maybe IBM, HP, et al. don't have much of a choice. VMware's dominance, after all, is a current reality. Red Hat's is only a possibility. IBM and company must be counting on being able to keep Red Hat in check as they use the open source leader as a pawn against VMware. History isn't kind to such faith-based partnering, but they apparently don't have a better alternative.

As Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady suggests, OVA is "essentially a crystallization of players with common interests." That common interest is in staving off VMware's dominance of virtualization and the private cloud market that will follow it. None of the participating vendors, from IBM to Novell, has any real interest in propping up Red Hat's lead in open source virtualization.

But they may do so, all the same.

Red Hat, for its part, must be hoping that this virtualization alliance will fare better than others that have cropped up in the past to counter VMware. Those failed. But maybe this time's the charm?

For Red Hat, it may not matter. As stated, its virtualization business is already growing fast. If OVA gives it a bump, great. If not, it's not going to slow Red Hat's momentum.

All of which leaves us with the question: why bother?

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.

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