KVM Adoption Isn't All About Commercial Support

By Sean Michael Kerner (Send Email)
Posted Jul 8, 2010


The open source KVM virtualization technology is being promoted by many different vendors, often as a mechanism to help enable cloud deployments. Among the biggest backers of KVM are Linux vendors Red Hat and Ubuntu, though in at least one use case the solutions they're marketing aren't necessarily the solutions that cloud deployments are using. The Planet rolls out a new cloud hosting service based on Linux KVM virtualization, but neither Red Hat nor Ubuntu are making any money from it -– yet.

Hosting provider The Planet recently launched a new cloud service offering built on KVM technology without the benefit of the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC) or Red Hat's Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV). Instead The Planet has chosen to take its own path, leveraging the freely available Ubuntu Lucid LTS release and without engaging in a commercial contract with Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor behind Ubuntu.

"At the hypervisor layer, given the price points we wanted to hit, commercial software was really not an option," Carl Meadows, senior director of product management for cloud services at The Planet, told InternetNews.com.

Meadows explained that his team looked at the two predominant open source platforms which are Xen and KVM. After reviewing his options, he came to the conclusion that the Xen community didn't have the same traction within the development community as KVM was enjoying. As such, The Planet's cloud has standardized on KVM and Meadows said so far that decision has worked out well.

KVM itself is part of the Linux kernel, and as part of their cloud deployment, The Planet's cloud is using the recent Ubuntu Lucid release. One of the features that Ubuntu Lucid provides is something called the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud which is based on the Eucalyptus open source project for cloud management and deployment.

Canonical provides commercial services for cloud deployments and there is also a commercial Eucalyptus company led by former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos. Eucalyptus however, wasn't something that The Planet ended up using as part of its cloud deployment.

"We evaluated Eucalyptus but it was far too proscriptive for what we needed," Meadows said. "It's really designed to mimic Amazon's EC2 and we weren't trying to rebuild EC2. If you're building with Eucalyptus you're building a Eucalyptus cloud and we really want to build a virtualization platform designed to meet the needs of our customers."

Additionally while The Planet has chosen to use Ubuntu as their Linux distribution for KVM, they aren't engaged in a commercial agreement with Canonical yet either.

"Their typical commercial support doesn't really apply since we're going to have 600 to a 1,000 hosts that will all be running the same thing," Meadows said. "So if we have a bug, it's the same bug across all our systems and licensing each server individually for support, that's not the way our architecture works."

Meadows noted however that The Planet does have a technical partnership with Canonical and they have talked about figuring out a workable commercial agreement, but none is currently in place.

"They just want cloud vendors and service providers using their distribution," Meadows said. "There is no money changing hands yet."

He added that The Planet has submitted bugs back to the open source Ubuntu project and that in general they really haven't had much need for support. They do however communicate with Ubuntu about what they're doing technically in terms of the cloud deployment architecture.

A Number of Big Cloud Wins

The Planet also considered basing their cloud on Red Hat's KVM approach as well. To date, Red Hat has claimed a number of big cloud wins and have a certified cloud provider program that includes IBM, Amazon, NTT and Saavis.

Meadows explained that for The Planet, the Red Hat approach didn't quite make sense as he was trying to figure out how to architect the cloud infrastructure.

"They were requiring us to run Red Hat KVM and license that by the socket before we even got to the Red Hat guests on top and that was really cost prohibitive," Meadows said. "It didn't really add any value for us over Ubuntu."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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