Why Choose Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Over VMware or Microsoft?

Why would anyone use Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) instead of VMware's or Microsoft's virtualization technologies?

Sure, it's a lot less expensive, but is there a technological reason to choose the Linux leader over the virtualization kingpins? Navin Thadani thinks so and explains why.

Talk to Navin Thadani, Red Hat's senior director, virtualization, and he'll tell you that RHEV's attractions are that it offers high-performance server virtualization, it's scalable, and it's very secure. And, perhaps most importantly, it offers "solid economics for customers." What does that mean? It's less expensive than Hyper-V and VMware, in other words.

Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) doesn't seem to sell RHEV based on the features it offers, and that's probably because it lacks a few key ones. Despite Thadani promising as long ago as February 2010 that "you will be able to do an apples-for-apples feature comparison between us and VMware," RHEV is still quite a few pieces of fruit short of a full picnic basket vis a vis VMware.

One example is its ability to carry out the live migration of virtual machine disk files across storage arrays -- the feature VMware (NYSE: VMW) calls Storage vMotion. A RHEV equivalent has been on Red Hat's road map since the launch of RHEV, but its arrival still doesn't appear to be imminent. "We still lack storage live migration, but it's still in the plan," confirmed Thadani. Will it be included in RHEV 3.0, which is due to go into beta shortly? "I don't want to comment on if it is in or out," he said. Doesn't sound promising, you have to say.

Anther feature that have been promised but still hasn't arrived is an equivalent to VMware's consolidated backup (VCB). "We did extensive market research on the topic and found VCB is almost never used by enterprises the way VMware intended them to," Thadani explained. "Right now you can do in-guest backups, and moving forward we will add a virtualization-specific backup solution." Don't hold your breath.

Red Hat also lacks a simple GUI-driven way to carry out so-called P2V, V2P and V2V conversions from its RHEV-M management system. It doesn't plan to introduce one in the near future, but Thadani pointed out a third-party tool from Acronis that can carry out these tasks. "The need to integrate this into the management system is not high," he maintained.

Another feature currently missing is the ability to hot-add CPUs or memory to servers.

Looking around the market, it is clear that RHEV's market penetration is not high -- and it's hard not to draw the conclusion that the lack of some of these features is at least partially to blame. But Thadani claims there has been a good deal of customer uptake with high-profile customers, including Qualcomm, BNP Paribas and Dreamworks.

What's the attraction? In the developed markets of North America and Europe, Thadani said that although VMware has made big inroads, it has tended to be in enterprises wanting to virtualize their non-mission-critical Windows servers. "Now the CIO's office realizes the value in virtualization, they are looking at the Linux side of the business, and they see some super alternatives to VMware, like RHEV. They trust Red Hat, as we saved them millions of dollars when they moved from UNIX to Linux."

In the Asia-Pacific region the motivation for going with Red Hat is altogether different. "These are more green field deployments," Thadani says. "There's usually a mix of Windows and Linux workloads, and when these companies look at the alternatives, they say that the value of RHEV is fantastic, and they trust our brand." In other words, once again, RHEV is cheap: cheaper than Hyper-V, and certainly cheaper than VMware.

It's easy to forget that RHEV has been around for only 18 months or so, but it's clear that Red Hat has got a great deal more work to do to convince large numbers of potential customers to choose it over VMware or Hyper-V.

A recently announced plan to collaborate with IBM on Red Hat's RHEV-Manager product provides a clue as to how the company may be planning to proceed. "We want our API to do more, we want to add functionality to RHEV-M, and we want to integrate with some of IBM's products like (Systems) Director for hardware monitoring and Tivoli for lifecycle management, images and provisioning," Thadani said.

That sounds like what's in the making is something akin to Microsoft's System Center and its Virtual Machine Manager module: an IBM based system for managing your assets -- both physical and those virtualized using RHEV.

The conclusion has got to be this: When it comes to virtualization, no one ever got fired for choosing VMware. But Red Hat is hoping that no one will ever get fired for choosing a company that partners with IBM either.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on May 12, 2011
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