Red Hat unveils fully open-source hypervisor

Linux company says the product, now in beta, will complement--not compete with--its existing virtualization strategy based on Xen. (By Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK)

BOSTON--Linux specialist Red Hat has announced it is developing an embedded hypervisor product that it claims will complement, rather than compete with, its existing virtualization strategy.

Launched here on the first day of the company's annual user conference, the Embedded Linux Hypervisor is currently in beta, and no commitment has been made as to when the product will eventually ship or how it will be distributed to customers, Red Hat said.

"This is the first Linux-based, fully open-source hypervisor. We see this announcement as one way to extend virtualization into the entire enterprise," said Paul Cormier, president of products and technology at Red Hat. "This is the next-generation operating system. We should be talking about virtualization and operating systems in the same package."

The Embedded Linux Hypervisor is founded on the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) project, which has been integrated into the Linux kernel since 2006. Red Hat has claimed KVM supports live migration of virtual machines from system to system in real-time and also has high availability features.

Red Hat's main virtualization push so far has been centered on the open-source technology Xen, which is now a Citrix product. The company's main enterprise Linux product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL 5), has integrated virtualization based on Xen.

When pushed on whether the announcement of the KVM-based embedded hypervisor means that the company sees a limited future for its relationship with Xen, Red Hat executives maintained that the company is keen to maintain both technologies, to give customers different choices over how to manage their virtualization tasks.

The company also claimed that it has not decided on how the Embedded Linux Hypervisor will be distributed to customers--whether it will be integrated into future releases of RHEL, for example. Red Hat added that, for now, the beta version can be downloaded from the oVirt Web site.

Xen's origins lie in University of Cambridge research that was eventually spun out to create the XenSource organization, which develops and maintains the open-source virtualization technology in conjunction with Red Hat, Novell, and other community software organizations.

Red Hat's latest virtualization announcement will be seen as another move against virtualization specialist VMware, the market leader for the technology. Some analysts believe VMware's approach, based around proprietary software not coupled to an operating system, is vulnerable in the long term.

"Much as it has in the operating system and relational database systems (arena), open source is poised to have a disruptive impact on the virtualization space, lowering costs for customers and offering alternatives to proprietary lock-in," said Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst with RedMonk.

However, despite Red Hat's continued drive to integrate virtualization into its Linux distributions and characterize virtualization as just another feature of the operating system, it is not clear whether end users are attuned to that approach.

Recent research around attitudes to server operating systems, conducted by ZDNet UK, revealed that many end users are still wary of implementing virtualization and, when they do so, still view it as separate technology from the operating system.

With survey respondents asked to rank operating-system features in order of importance, virtualization came last, in eleventh place, with scalability, high reliability and identity management taking the top three positions.

However, despite not viewing virtualization as a key feature for server operating systems, respondents cited virtualization and consolidation as key server-management tasks in the next five years.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from Boston.

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