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Will KVM KO Xen?

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Last week’s Virtually Speaking discussed some of the back and forth going on at VMworld between VMware and its rivals.
Virtually Speaking: As VMworld demonstrated, the fight for virtual domination is far from over. After the show came to a close, however, a new player entered the ring. The impact of Red Hat Enterprise Linux in the virtual landscape has yet to be felt, but one thing is clear. Red Hat’s commitment to KVM means it’s in it for the long haul.

VMware’s actions seemed to beg the question of whether the show was intended to be a showcase for virtualization technology in general or a way for VMware to get the word out about its own progress.

Apparently others had the same question. An article posted Wednesday on InfoWorld revealed the answer:

Part of that answer could be found in a Q&A session with VMware executives during the show. Tod Nielsen, VMware Chief Operating Officer, didn’t pull any punches. He said that last year some of the other hypervisor vendors were too aggressive. And since VMware was spending the money and the time to put on the show, they were going to enforce certain rules to limit that type of activity. Nielsen said that VMworld is VMware’s show and that attendees come to see and hear about VMware first and foremost.

So there it is folks. Anyone want to make a prediction on whether Microsoft or Citrix will be exhibiting again in 2010? No doubt both vendors be back, but it’s hard to imagine either company offering so much as lip service level support.

Meanwhile, a new competitor for all three is rapidly emerging. In the aftermath of the show, Red Hat took the wraps off version 5.4 of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Although Red Hat has talked about virtualization, this release is the company’s first deliverable to revolves around the open source KVM hypervisor. Red Hat’s switch to KVM should come as no surprise. The Linux vendor has been talking about it for much of 2009, outlining its KVM strategy in February, which followed the acquisition of the Israel-based KVM vendor Qumranet in September 2008.

So now the lines get murkier. There is the competition for the operating system, which may or may not matter as much as it used to, and there is the competition of the virtualization agent. When it comes to Red Hat vs. Microsoft, this may not have an impact, since both companies now bring with them their own virtual environments and operating systems.

It is Xen, which since has been part of RHEL since version 5 was released in 2007 that stands to lose the most. RHEL said it will continue to support Xen for the 10-year release cycle of version 5, but it made its aim to migrate customers to KVM quite clear.

Paul Rubens in this week’s OS Roundup, quoted Navin Thadani, a senior director of the Linux vendor’s virtualization business, as saying, “We see consolidation as being inevitable, and in the medium term in this market we believe that will leave VMware, Microsoft and Red Hat.”

That leaves Xen out in the cold. Or the cloud, which is where the majority of its activity has been as of late. But with the virtualization vendors scrambling for the cloud, the competition is stiffening there as well.

Those looking to get their hands on KVM need look no further than the Linux kernel itself, of which KVM is part. This makes vendor compatibility quite straightforward: All ISVs that are certified for RHEL are also certified for deployment on KVM.

The one caveat in all of this is that the virtualization management solutions are not scheduled for release until later this year. Offerings planned include tools for live migration, high availability, system scheduling, and monitoring and reporting.

This may make KVM not enterprise ready yet, but it is certainly on its way. And by the time it gets there, VMware, Microsoft and Citrix will no doubt feel its impact.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001 and is the coauthor of Practical virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009.

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