Red Hat rolls out Linux product family and strategy for virtualization

At a press conference today, Red Hat introduced a new virtualization product family that will use Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) -- a technology acquired through Red Hat's recent buyout of Qumranet -- rather than Red Hat's long-time Xen hypervisor. The Linux leader said its objective was a pursuit of scalability, management, and interoperability with Microsoft's Windows virtualization platform.

Red Hat, though, will also release "specific tools and services to [help customers] transition to the next [virtualization] platform whenever they are ready," said Navin Thadani, senior director of Red Hat's virtualization business, speaking during the press conference. Red Hat will also continue to support Xen with security updates and patches through the current version 5 generation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), according to Thadani.

Brian Stevens, Red Hat's CTO and VP of engineering, pointed to last week's "milestone agreement with Microsoft" as a big catalyst behind Red Hat's rollout of four products in the "virtualization portfolio" announced today.

In the deal made known last week, Red Hat and Microsoft agreed to run one another's operating systems as guests on their respective hypervisor platforms.

Slated for graduated rollout over the next 12 months, the new products include: Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Servers; Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Desktops; Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL); and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor.

Although virtualization has been growing quickly, it still isn't being deployed very much in "enterprise or mission critical environments," Thadani admitted.

Red Hat's virtualization family is aimed at overcoming several barriers to enterprise deployment of virtualization, he said, including security, scalability, and "sensitivity to delay" -- a problem interfering with implementation of ERP systems and database applications.

"The security ramifications [of virtualization] are not yet fully understood," he contended. Enterprises want to "make sure solutions are fully baked before they take virtualization to the next level, [and] this is exactly where Red Hat virtualization steps in," according to Thadani.

The new Virtualization Manager for Desktops will support scalability and help control "VM server sprawl" by using search-based instead of hierarchical management, he said. Administrators will be able to search for and manage "every single object [and] user from that single location." Other capabilities will include live migration, a power saver, and "a lot of features around monitoring."

The new Virtualization Manager for Desktops, on the other hand, will use remote rendering technology known as Spice -- also obtained through the Qumranet acquisition last fall -- for centralized management and desktop deployment of multimedia technologies such as high-definition video streaming and bi-directional audio.

Red Hat plans to implement KVM -- a hypervisor technology which is now part of the Linux kernel -- in two ways, Thadani said. Red Hat will integrate KVM into RHEL, in addition to offering KVM through a new standalone product dubbed Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor.

Thadani predicted that the standalone offering will see most of its use among users who are new to Red Hat virtualization, whereas existing users will prefer the integrated implementation.

The Red Hat executive equated the integrated approach with a manual camera, and the standalone virtualization software with a point-and-shoot camera. "You can do a lot more with a manual," he illustrated. The point-and-shoot camera, on the other hand, "can't be tuned as much, [although] you can take great pictures."

During a Q&A session, the executives fielded questions about whether Red Hat's upcoming new products will be "open source," and "why the market needs another hypervisor," for instance.

Red Hat's product family will be "primarily open source," according to Thadani. Both of Red Hat's hypervisors are based on open source, he said.

"The management system is not open source" at this time, he acknowledged. But Red Hat plans to open source the tools over time "as we develop a cross-platform edition."

"You can think of [KVM] as the evolution of technology," he answered, with regard to Red Hat's now preferred hypervisor. KVM also provides reliability, he said. Since KVM is already integrated into the Linux kernel, "you don't need to reinvent the wheel."

Red Hat expects that the open source community will be building tools such as a scheduler and memory management system for KVM, according to Thadani. "So we do think it is a superior architecture," journalists were told.

Also today, Red Hat announced that, going forward, third-party applications certified to run on RHEL will also be certified to run on Red Hat virtualization platforms without modifications.

However, no mention was made during today's press conference as to how Red Hat's new virtualization family might interplay with commercial products from Novell -- Microsoft's partner in another interoperability deal -- or those of any other specific Linux operating system vendor.

Thadani said Red Hat will announce pricing for the four products in the virtualization family later.

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