Virtually Speaking: Linux Vendors Not Zen Over Xen

Amy Newman
Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 5 has gone into public beta. Like SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, it includes Xen virtualization technology. Will Red Hat's operating system give Novell's a run for the money?

Red Hat quietly released the first public beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) for both clients and servers last Friday. Although a bit later than planned, Red Hat plans to cycle quickly through to release candidate, and ship version 5 by year end or, if need be, January 2007.

Despite the back-and-forth about whether Xen is ready for prime time last month, the beta, as planned, integrates the Xen virtualization environment into the server operating system.

If you don't remember what transpired or were on vacation (as most of the world seemed to be in August), here's a recap.

First, ZDNet Asia quoted a Red Hat exec as saying, XenSource is not stable enough for the enterprise and until then, the company will not be incorporating it into RHEL.

Sounds reasonable on the surface. However, Red Hat was already committed to delivering Xen with RHEL 5.

In addition, the most recent version of SUSE Linux, which went gold in July, already contains Xen virtualization technology.

Perhaps the exec was confused between Xen (the project and software) and Xensource (the company behind the project). Perhaps he was taking a pre-emptive strike on reasons for the product's delay. Or, maybe he was trying to divert attention from the fact that the most recent release of Novell's SUSE Enterprise Linux server, initially unveiled in March (shortly after Red Hat announced its own intent to include Xen), incorporates Xen as does Red Hat's Fedora Core 5.

Until recently, in fact, the Fedora project was a feeder for RHEL, and the expectation was that users would try out Xen virtualization, figure out how to deploy and how to improve it. The results would then find their way in the more stable and enterprise ready RHEL 5. In the interim, Fedora Core was spun into an independent entity.

At the time, however, Red Hat countered with remarks that it will be integrating Xen into the operating system, unlike SUSE, which simply slapped the virtualization software into the stack.

A hearty, Meow.

So much for peace, love, and community. The Linux vendors are as catty as those in any other space. Especially when they are trying to hold on to or build market share.

It does, however, demonstrate how important virtualization is to these vendors' strategies. Virtualization is a key enhancement in the most recent versions of both operating system.

Also, it appears Xen has, not surprisingly, locked up the hypervisor choices in the open source space. Sure, another option could arise from a forking off or be developed anew, but for now, Xen is where it's at.

Which, naturally puts Red Hat in a bind, as its main enhancement isn't so terribly unique. Red Hat's value proposition over SUSE is how well it integrates the virtualization software into operating system in addition to the ongoing asset of its support and the community behind it.

Hopefully, the battle will be more about which vendor has the better technology as opposed to which has the bigger marketing budget.

As for market share, Novell may be significantly trailing Red Hat in the Linux arena, but there is at least one vendor that closed its eyes and now finds itself fighting hard to stay in first.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Beta 1 is currently available to existing Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscribers via the Red Hat Network. It runs on 32-bit x86 systems (i386 and i686), 64-bit AMD64 and Intel EM64T (x86_64), 64-bit Intel Itanium2 (ia64), 64-bit IBM eServer iSeries and pSeries and POWER (ppc64) and 64-bit IBM eServer zSeries (s390x) systems. At this time, the virtualization capabilities are available only for the i386 and x86_64 architectures and are in technology preview for IA64.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

This article was originally published on Sep 15, 2006
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