Red Hat rains on Xen parade

Xen open-source virtualization isn't stable enough to use yet, even though Novell is shipping it, a top Red Hat exec says.

The Xen open-source virtualization environment is not yet ready for enterprise use, a senior Red Hat executive has said, despite "unbelievable" customer demand and the fact that Novell has already started shipping the software.

Xen, which is primarily being developed by U.S.-based start-up XenSource, allows users to run multiple operating systems as guest virtual machines on the same hardware. It potentially permits greater utilization of resources.

But while Novell this month started shipping the software with version 10 of its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server environment, Red Hat continues to have a lack of confidence in the virtualization newcomer, said Alex Pinchev, a vice president of international operations at the software company.

"(Xen) is not stable yet, it's not ready for the enterprise," Pinchev told CNET News.com sister site ZDNet Australia on Monday.

"We don't feel that (Xen) is stable enough to address banking, telco or any other enterprise customer, so until we are comfortable, we will not release it," he added.

Taking the customer viewpoint, he said: "If the National Australia Bank wants to implement virtualization and it's not stable, you can imagine what they will tell us."

Instead of trying to play catch-up with rival Novell and simply shipping Xen as included software with its operating system, Red Hat will attempt to build a full virtualization platform around the product in the next version of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux server software, due to be released in December.

That platform will include software for storage virtualization, for example, as well as systems management and provisioning tools, Pinchev said. He noted there was an "unbelievable" demand for virtualization software from customers.

Red Hat has spent "millions" of dollars testing Xen, according to Pinchev, and has hundreds of customers around the world trying out beta versions of the software.

The desktop front
While Red Hat and Novell might not see eye-to-eye on Xen, they do agree on the degree of interest from enterprises in using Linux in desktop PCs.

Ron Hovsepian, Novell's chief executive, predicted in April that Linux desktops would start taking off in mainstream markets in the next 12-to-18 months.

"I absolutely agree with that, and we see a lot of traction in the desktop area," Pinchev said. "It started in Europe, where people are very, very unhappy with Microsoft."

Organizations in China, India, Japan and Thailand are also keen, Pinchev said, and there is even some interest in the United States. "We're talking with one very large financial institution in the U.S. who wants to move 100,000 desktops to Linux," he said.

Pinchev said Red Hat has customers right now with as many as 50,000-seat desktop Linux implementations, but he declined to divulge names.

One other area in which Novell and Red Hat would probably see eye-to-eye is the need to tackle common enemies like Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, particularly in the data center, but also on the desktop.

Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 software continues to be popular in enterprises. Pinchez said an upgrade to Windows Vista could prove costly.

"Customers are anticipating a huge cost to move to Vista," he said, adding Red Hat had started to see more migrations from Linux to Windows at the server level. The Linux vendor's business has traditionally been in Unix-to-Linux migrations, or in new application installations.

Pinchev said Microsoft's highly publicised delays in getting its Vista family released were having a "very positive impact" on Red Hat. "Right now, we are competing with something which doesn't exist, and the customers are getting annoyed with that," Pinchev said.

On the Sun front, Pinchev said Red Hat had definitely seen more customer discussions around the Solaris operating system since it became open-source software last year. However, he added that it has proved confusing for the market to deal with another open-source operating system.

He said most of the AMD-based Opteron servers that Sun sold ended up running Red Hat Linux anyway. "Sun is writing us a big check every quarter. They hate it, but they do it," he said.

Renai LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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