Red Hat Bets on Startup to Shake Up Virtualization

Acquiring Qumranet puts Xen on the sidelines as the Linux vendor seeks to challenge Microsoft in another arena.

Linux vendor Red Hat is upping the ante in the virtualization market with the $107 million dollar cash acquisition Thursday of privately held virtualization vendor Qumranet.

The acquisition brings Qumranet's SolidICE virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) under the Red Hat banner, giving the Linux vendor a claim to end-to-end platform virtualization -- thanks to its existing role in the OS.

"This acquisition advances Red Hat's delivery of groundbreaking virtualization solutions in ways that virtualization-only vendors cannot," Paul Cormier, Red Hat's (NYSE: RHAT) executive vice president, said during a conference call discussing the deal. "Red Hat links all the components of the infrastructure including the operating system, [software] applications, virtualization management and hardware to deliver new levels of flexibility, scalability, manageability and security."

The move also marks the potential for Red Hat's decreased reliance on the open source Xen hypervisor (define) -- although company executives argue that it's not spoiling for a hypervisor market war with industry leader VMware or with Citrix, which owns Xen's chief commercial vendor.

Instead, the acquisition would seem to aim to place Red Hat at the forefront of vendors challenging Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) for end-to-end platform virtualization.

"Modern IT organizations deploying virtualization require this breadth of coverage which Red Hat as one of only two major operating system vendors is uniquely positioned to deliver," Cormier said.

SolidICE also can run users' Windows XP or Windows 2000 virtual desktops on top of the open source Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) Linux virtualization technology at its core.

Spokespeople for Microsoft did not return requests for comment by press time.

Red Hat executives described their new combined solution as more potent than that offered by either VMware or Citrix alone -- arguing that both are limited in what they are able to do, since their solutions aren't working on what is known as a "bare-metal" hypervisor, like the KVM.

Having access to a bare-metal hypervisor has advantages over other hypervisor implementations because it runs directly on hardware without an intermediary, according to Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens.

"KVM is a bare-metal hypervisor -- it doesn't run on top of Linux. What it does is it turns the Linux kernel itself into a bare-metal hypervisor," he said. "The significance of it being a bare-metal hypervisor is that it provides really strict security isolation and full performance for guest applications in the ways that prior products that were not bare-metal hypervisors were not able to deliver."

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