Qumranet reveals reason for all that KVM work

Surprise! The KVM open-source virtualization software is at the foundation of a desktop virtualization software start-up's business.

Update: I corrected the CEO's name spelling.

Given how much time and money it sunk into KVM, the Linux-based, open-source virtualization project, it's not a surprise that that stealth-mode start-up Qumranet was working on virtualization. But until Monday, the company refused to say just exactly how.

At DemoFall 2007, Qumranet unveiled its strategy: software that makes it easier to run desktop PCs on central servers rather than on actual PCs. Others, notably market leader VMware, already have a start in that market, but Qumranet aims to make it possible by buying software from one company rather than hiring a systems integrator to stitch together a hodgepodge of components, said chief executive and co-founder Benny Schnaider.

Virtualization lets a single machine run multiple operating systems simultaneously. In the desktop virtualization arena, that's useful for replacing power-hungry desktops with energy-efficient servers that in principle also are easier to manage and back up.

Qumranet's SolidIce software runs on KVM virtual machines, which themselves run atop Linux. However, by virtue of features in newer Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors, Windows can run unmodified on KVM.

Unsurprisingly, the company argues that it's cheaper than using full-fledged PCs. For basic desktop computing tasks, such as Word processing, SolidIce can squeeze about 20 instances of Windows onto a single dual-core, dual-processor server with 16GB of memory, said John-Marc Clark, vice president of marketing--and a former employee at remote desktop specialist Citrix Systems. Of course, somebody also has to pay for thin clients or PCs to tap into the remote servers.

Qumranet, founded in 2005, has funding from Sequoia Capital and Norwest Venture Partners. Of its 45 or so employees, about 5 employees are in the United States, with most research and development in Israel. The company is hiring sales and marketing now that its first product is available, Schnaider said.

The company also has technology it calls Spice (Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments) that's geared to transfer keystrokes, mouse clicks and audio to the server and to send video and audio back to the user. It's got partial support for USB devices today, Schnaider said. However, the company also supports Microsoft's RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).

Clark sees a number of situations in which SolidIce would be useful. Many of them are the same as what we've heard for years from VMware and more recently SWsoft's Parallels group, but they're still worth noting for the uninitiated: providing a secure desktop to a temporary contractor; testing software or Web sites using various combinations of desktop software; avoiding painful transitions during PC upgrades; computer training rooms with a few dozen identical machines that need to be restored to a pristine state at the end of class; and running older software on incompatible new operating systems such as Windows Vista.