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Red Hat Makes Strategic Virtualization Buy

Open source server distributor Red Hat Inc., which is carving out a virtualization path unique in the industry, added another arrow to its quiver today with the acquisition of Qumranet Inc.

Red Hat paid $107 million for privately held Qumranet, according to a Red Hat press release. With that sum, Red Hat gets Qumranet's two primary offerings: Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) and SolidICE, a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product. It gives Red Hat a more complete virtualization solution and foothold in the growing VDI market, seen by many as the next lucrative frontier in the virtualization space.

KVM is a "Type II" or hosted hypervisor, meaning it sits on top of an existing operating system -- in this case, open source Linux. Using this technology, anyone using Linux has access to a hypervisor and can perform virtualization. The Xen hypervisor also works with Linux and other operating systems. The difference is that Xen is a "Type I," or bare metal, hypervisor. It sits directly on hardware and handles virtualization, whereas KVM sits on top of Linux, and processing has to go through the OS first. Type I hypervisors are generally seen as being faster than Type II hypervisors, which have an extra layer of software to navigate.

Qumranet's rationale is that KVM doesn't need to duplicate functionality already built into Linux. That approach makes KVM a lean, fast program in its own right. Red Hat agreed, and decided to move away from Xen and into the KVM camp last June, when it announced the Embedded Linux Hypervisor, which contained KVM rather than Xen. Red Hat's move surprised many in the virtualization and open source communities, since Xen is highly regarded and used in offerings from companies such as Virtual Iron, Novell, Citrix, Oracle and others.

SolidICE, on the other hand, is a proprietary, commercial VDI product. Currently, it supports only Windows XP and Windows 2000 desktops. VDI creates a virtual machine (VM) of a user's desktop, including the operating system and applications. The VM is then stored on a server in a datacenter, and accessed by the user via a remote protocol -- either Microsoft's remote desktop protocol (RDP) or SPICE (Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments), Qumranet's specialized protocol that the company says enhances the end user experience.

Not everyone is hailing the news. Analyst Chris Wolf, a virtualization specialist with Burton Group (and columnist for Virtualization Review), called the acquisition "a good start" for Red Hat, but he added that significant hurdles remain. Wolf said it puts Red Hat "on the path to being a relevant virtualization company. They said they want to be a 'Top 2' [virtualization] company, but right now, I don't even have them as a 'Top 4' company."

Wolf added that there are two main problems: Red Hat doesn't have official support from Microsoft, and there are no paravirtualized drivers for guest Microsoft OSes, such as XP, that run inside VMs. Paravirtualized drivers improve performance.

"Red Hat doesn't have a good Windows solution, [and they won't be] a relevant player until they do," Wolf said.

Another issue, according to Wolf, is the choice of KVM over Xen.

"I like KVM architecturally, but if you look at momentum, that's on the side of Xen now. Xen already has hardware OEMs, and there's a lot coming out now with Xen client initiatives." The hardware OEM statement refers to recent decisions by vendors such as Sun and Dell to embed Xen into shipping servers.

Analyst Dan Kusnetzky, of Kusnetzky Group, was more bullish on the announcement. Kusnetzky, who said Qumranet is a client of his, blogged about his belief that Red Hat made a smart decision.

"With the addition of Qumranet's technology, Red Hat will find itself in a position few other suppliers are in," Kusnetzky wrote. "They'll have a powerful operating system, development environments, database software, virtualization technology of several types and access to a dynamic open source community. Only Oracle and Sun have a similar portfolio."

No closing date for the acquisition was listed in the release.

About the Author

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

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