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Another (Red) Hat into the Ring

Linux developer Red Hat believes open source is the future of virtualization, but are its new platform and hypervisor too late?

Red Hat Inc. officially announced its foray into enterprise virtualization on Feb. 23 of this year, with three new products: Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Servers, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Desktops and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor.

The company's real push, though, started Sept. 4, 2008, with the $107 million acquisition of Qumranet Inc. Qumranet had two things Red Hat wanted above all else: Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) -- which the company has baked into Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) -- and SolidICE, a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology.

Red Hat had been a leading proponent of the Xen open source hypervisor until the Qumranet buy. Xen was a component of RHEL, the company's flagship product, but Red Hat soon ditched Xen for KVM. Coincidence or not, Xen development is overseen by a new virtualization rival for Red Hat, Citrix Systems Inc. Citrix has its own version of Xen, called XenServer, but it's still involved in the open source virtualization community.

Citrix also has one of the two leading VDI products, XenDesktop.

Spreading the Word
Now Red Hat has offerings that compete with those of major virtualization players VMware Inc., Microsoft and Citrix. To hear Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens tell it, Red Hat's goal is not so much competition with those rivals but instead the spread of the virtualization gospel. "We're trying to drive the standardization, mass adoption and commoditization of virtualization capability," says Stevens.

Red Hat's server virtualization manager includes such management must-haves as live migration, high availability, virtual machine (VM) snapshots, power management, thin provisioning, monitoring and reporting.

The Third Oar
Andi Mann, an analyst with Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates Inc., isn't overwhelmed by Red Hat's wares. "It's not differentiated enough," Mann says. "[Red Hat] is coming in as the third oar. They're coming in with a very limited set of management tools."

Red Hat won't sell any product; as it does with RHEL, it will sell service-based subscriptions to the products instead. Stevens says the server management and desktop management offerings will be separate, so two subscriptions will be necessary for a complete solution.

Some analysts believe Red Hat's biggest challenge in virtualization will be convincing potential customers who aren't Red Hat fanboys that the company's virtualization effort is more than a pure Linux play. Mann is skeptical of Red Hat's chances. "I think they've got a good opportunity to make some penetration into limited, internal departmental deployments in their current market," he says. "Ultimately, I think that doesn't provide any stability for them or their clients, and that will long-term fail."

What success Red Hat will have, Mann believes, will rest on the reputation of RHEL. "There are a lot of people who love Red Hat Enterprise Linux; they want to go with them for a 'single throat to choke,'" Mann says. "They have a lot of opportunity to penetrate into a very strong and loyal customer base."

The current economic environment may also provide a boost to RHEL-based virtualization; after all, it's free to download and use, unlike VMware Infrastructure or Hyper-V (which comes integrated with Windows Server 2008, although a free version, Hyper-V Server, does exist).

Expanding the Ecosystem
However, Red Hat has a lot of catching up to do on the ecosystem front.

"Look at VMware especially, with the ESX marketplace for management," says Mann. "I'm literally tracking a list of 140 vendors writing management options for mostly ESX, a lot of them for Xen, and some for Hyper-V as well. At the moment, the number of vendors writing management options for KVM? One. So it's a horrible lock-in."

Red Hat would argue that going with a proprietary vendor like VMware is a similar lock-in. Stevens, however, is realistic enough to understand the current market.

"It's going to be difficult for anybody to build the revenue stream VMware has," Stevens says. "We don't expect that, either." He adds: "Anybody that comes in and thinks they're going to grab three-quarters or half of VMware's revenue stream is crazy. We'll monetize it and build a healthy business -- but at a fraction of the cost."

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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