Red Hat unveils new vision for virtualization

Three strategic virtualization initiatives were the stars of the show as Linux powerhouse Red Hat opened its Red Hat Summit Wednesday in Boston.

What do the Red Hat moves mean to you? More options in open source virtualization tools and a new open source effort around virtualization security, for starters.

The Red Hat move that will catch the eye of most users is the Embedded Linux Hypervisor, oVirt. This is a lightweight, embeddable hypervisor that currently lets you run Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Microsoft Windows VMs (virtual machines) on Linux. What makes this more interesting than just another virtualization announcement: you will be able to carry oVirt-customized VMs from PC to server to what-have-you in your pocket on a USB key drive, Red Hat says.

The open-source oVirt hypervisor, now available as a beta, is based on the KVM project. KVM, in turn, has been an integral part of the Linux kernel since February, 2007. In other words, this is not pie-in-the-sky technology. It’s founded on existing virtualization technologies.

Red Hat’s channel strategy encourages partners to combine open source with traditional technologies into enterprise computing solutions offering customers more choice. Red Hat offers a global, two-tier partner (Ready and Advanced) program for channel resellers and system integrators.

At this point, followers and users of Red Hat Linux may be asking, “What about Xen?” (the best-known open-source hypervisor technology to date.) Red Hat, according to Red Hat executive VP Paul Cormier, will continue to support both Xen and KVM. But, because “KVM is now baked in to the Linux kernel, it’s very easy for both Red Hat and other developers to work with it,” Cormier says. For the time being, Xen will continue to be important, but, as time goes by, Red Hat sees KVM becoming the dominant virtualization technology, he says.

The key difference: while Xen works well with Linux, it’s an add-on. KVM, on the other hand, is an integral part of Linux. For now, Xen is the more mature of the technologies, but KVM is coming on fast and promises to be more useful for developers, Red Hat is betting.

At the end of the day, Red Hat sees KVM-based Linux distributions replacing operating system distributions, which don’t incorporate virtualization. In tomorrow’s Linux, Red Hat sees virtualization becoming simply another standard operating system feature.

While the idea of keeping a selection of virtual machines in your pocket is entertaining, Red Hat’s Virtual Infrastructure Management technology is more likely to grab a CIO’s attention.

This set of management technologies for x86-based Xen and KVM virtualization programs is also available at the oVirt Web site as a beta.

Red Hat claims that this architecture enables customers to implement cloud, Software as a Service (SaaS), appliance and traditional server infrastructures across one management platform.

Last, but in the long run perhaps the most important of Red Hat’s new virtualization developments: Red Hat is offering virtualization security management technologies. In the rush to cut data center costs with virtualization, it’s only recently that some CIOs have become painfully aware that they needed management and security tools for their 21st century virtual servers.

Red Hat’s new work in virtualization security is perhaps the least mature of the trio of technologies. Still, Red Hat is working to make it possible for administrators to manage identity and policy, while simultaneously auditing system resources and application integrity.

Want to know more about this project? Check into Red Hat’s newly launched FreeIPA project site. Red Hat will be more than happy to have open source community help in creating open-source solutions that could benefit every company that’s packing more and more work into fewer and fewer physical servers. Looking ahead, Stephen O’Grady, principal analyst with the open-source analysis company RedMonk says, “Much as it has in the operating system and relational database markets, open source is poised to have a disruptive impact on the virtualization space, lowering costs for customers and offering alternatives to proprietary lock-in.”

Based on its announcements Wednesday, Red Hat intends to be a player in that disruption.

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