Red Hat Lays Out Its Virtualization Play

Linux vendor Red Hat today is angling to position itself as one of the big players in virtualization, today unveiling a slew of new product initiatives designed to penetrate the enterprise on a number of fronts.

The company today showed off a new standalone virtualization hypervisor based on KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine), as well as a new hypervisor for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It also took the wraps off new management tools for virtualization on servers and desktops.

The initiatives aim to position Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) as a leader in virtualization, challenging vendors like VMware, and a series of moves that have been months in coming. The moves build on Red Hat’s acquisition of KVM vendor Qumranet in September 2008. That acquisition — and Red Hat’s newest launches of KVM-based virtualization offerings — also further distances the company from the competing open source Xen hypervisor technology.

The efforts also continue the momentum Red Hat created last week with its virtualization support deal with Microsoft, itself trying to gain more of the virtualization market.

For Red Hat, the Linux vendor is betting that its KVM-based approach can deliver on key areas lacking in the industry’s current offerings.

“Cost, performance scalability and security are the different ceilings that we see preventing virtualization from going to the next level in the datacenter, ” Navin Thadani, senior director of Red Hat’s virtualization business, said during a press conference today. “This is exactly where Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization comes in.”

Key to the company’s efforts is the new, standalone Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor. The new hypervisor is based on KVM, and Thadani said he believed it would offer better performance than existing Xen-based hypervisors.

The launch serves to add another competitive hypervisor into the market against Citrix’s Xen and VMware. While Red Hat will be challenging two virtualization giants in earnest, Thadani said there is a need for another hypervisor in the market, and that’s it’s all part of the evolution of virtualization technology.

Red Hat will also be including a KVM-based hypervisor as part of its next Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) update, RHEL 5.4.

By providing both a standalone hypervisor and an integrated hypervisor in RHEL, Red Hat is aiming to serve two different markets, Thadani said.

“The standalone hypervisor [is] easy to use and quick to deploy, and we expect that enterprises that do not have a lot of Linux expertise and just want to use a virtualization solution quickly will use the standalone hypervisor,” he said. “From that standpoint, we believe this will be a new market for Red Hat.”

In addition to the new hypervisor, Thadani also talked up new virtualization management tools for servers and desktops.

Red Hat Virtualization Manager for Servers enables users to manage all their virtual assets from a central location. He added that it can scale for high-availability needs and includes complete monitoring, reporting and auditing capabilities.

Thadani also said that the company’s virtualization manager also implements a new, search-based organization tool. Instead of the conventional approach of viewing components in their environment by drilling down through a hierarchical tree, the new system lets users do a search.

On the desktop side, Red Hat also unveiled its Virtualization Manager for Desktops, which lets administrators centrally secure and manage policies for a virtual desktop environment. The effort marks something of a change for Red Hat, which to date has not been aggressive in the desktop virtualization space.

Severing ties with Xen

As for Xen, which had been the integrated hypervisor technology in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 since 2007, Red Hat will continue to support existing users.

Still, Thadani said he believes that KVM is a superior architecture, and that it represents the future for virtualization.

“Existing customers using RHEL 5 Xen need not be concerned about continuing its use in production,” Thadani said. “However, our strategic direction is KVM, and from that standpoint, we’ll offer specific tools and services to our Xen customers to transition to the KVM platform whenever they’re ready.”

Red Hat plans on releasing the new hypervisor and management products over the next 12 months Thadani said. He added that Red Hat is not currently announcing any pricing on the products.

While Thadani pledged all the solutions would be made available as open source, he added that not everything — like the management technology — has yet to be made open source.

“We will make it open source over time as we develop a cross-platform version of the solution,” Thadani said.

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