What's Red Hat Doing in the Virtualization Business?

When you think Red Hat, you think Linux. Maybe, if you're a developer or a CTO, you also think JBoss. Red Hat, itself, now wants you to think virtualization.

Even before Red Hat bought the virtualization company Qumranet, with its Linux KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine) platform, Red Hat had made it clear that it was moving into virtualization in a big way. At its annual Red Hat Summit in June, the Linux powerhouse announced that it would be deploying its Embedded Linux Hypervisor, oVirt, which is based on KVM in its server line. This lightweight, embeddable hypervisor currently enables users to run run Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows VMs on Linux.

Now that Red Hat owns Qumranet, Scott Crenshaw, Red Hat's VP of the Platform Business Unit, explains that Red Hat made the move for three reasons. First, to "accelerate time to market for a broad virtualization solution;" then to keep KVM open source, and further the investment in it." And, finally to "extend our virtualization product line into the VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) market."

Crenshaw then explains in more detail that "KVM will form the basis of Red Hat's embedded hypervisor product, which is slated for release early next year. We have strong interest from customers and OEMs to bring the advantages of this Linux bare metal hypervisor to the market."

"If and when," continues Crenshaw, "KVM gets deployed into Red Hat Enterprise Linux is still being determined. We designed into RHEL virtualization the industry's first open-source, open-standards interface allowing new hypervisors and management tools to be deployed with plug-and-play ease. So managing any transition will be seamless for customers."

Crenshaw also made it clear that Red Hat is thinking about taking virtualization into the desktop market. Recently, Red Hat declined to enter the traditional Linux desktop market .

Now, with its newly acquired "SolidICE VDI solution. We will build on the excellent momentum Qumranet has generated. This is a game-changing product for the VDI market, and we expect customers to accelerate their already rapid deployment now that a company of Red Hat's stature is backing it."

SolidICE is a virtual desktop that uses SPICE (Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments) to run Windows or Linux desktops from a virtual machine on a server. Thus, it has more in common with Citrix's XenDesktop and before that its MetaFrame product line than it does conventional desktops.

That's what Red Hat intends, but do these moves make sense? According to Jay Lyman, an open-source analyst for The 451 Group , they certainly do. Lyman says, "This acquisition makes perfect technical sense since Red Hat was already moving to incorporate KVM more into its distribution. Of course, it will continue to support Xen which has been a big part of its virtualization technology and strategy thus far, but I think internally the company will, wisely, move aggressively to the KVM technology that is being driven by Linux kernel developers."

Lyman adds, "Red Hat felt it had to make this acquisition to be a bigger player in virtualization, to continue extending and building from its OS and before somebody else did. By acquiring Qumranet, Red Hat adds the people and products it needs to do that integration and polish work on KVM, but it will take some time to integrate into RHEL."

Dan Kusnetzky, principal analyst for the Kusnetzky Group looks at Red Hat's history. "Virtualization has appeared to be a secondary concern for Red Hat for quite some time.

Although the company included both Xen and KVM in their product since both are standard parts of the Linux kernel at this point, the focus of their efforts seemed on other levels of the software stack.

As virtualized environments become increasingly important, the company needed to do something to 1) improve Red Hat's position in the market, 2) acquire useful, workable technology and 3) acquire talent in their area of virtual machine software and 4) move into an area that offered a rich source of other talent."

"The acquisition of Qumranet appears to have touched on all of those points," Kuznetzky concludes. "Red Hat's move was covered broadly and demonstrated their interest in virtualization. Qumranet's SolidICE and management technology offers Red Hat a toe hold in the desktop virtualization market and offers room to reach into the server virtualization arena. Qumranet's staff includes many of the key developers of KVM, developers who also have deep levels of expertise in other virtualization technology as well. Red Hat now has access to a wealth of [virtualization] expertise."

So, from the experts' viewpoint it certainly appears that Red Hat is making the right moves to become a player in the virtualization market. Now, the question is: "Will the market agree?"

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