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Linux Vendors Try To Beat Microsoft To Widespread Virtualization

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With Microsoft trying to ramp up its Windows Virtual Server for release next year, Red Hat, Novell, Xandros, and other Linux vendors are pulling out the stops toward virtualization in hopes that Linux might start to beat Windows as the base operating system of choice among enterprises and small businesses.

Also talking up plans and activities around Linux server virtualization are relative newcomers such as Transitive, Inc. and Virtual Iron Software, Inc.

During a a press conference at the recent C3 Expo in New York, Transitive rolled out the initial steps in a new initiative to migrate Solaris/SPARC applications from the Solaris 2.6 era onward to Linux, without source code or binary changes.

Developed in conjunction with Intel, the first two products will include QuickTransit for Solaris/SPARC-to-Linux Xeon, slated for delivery in the third quarter of 2006, and QuickTransit for Solaris/SPARC to Linux/Itanium, due out in the fourth quarter.

The two RISC-to-Intel migration offerings will initially work with Red Hat and Novell SUSE Linux, said Gal Chanoch, Transitive’s director of marketing. “Other Linux distributions might follow,” he told LinuxPlanet.

Transitive is also eyeing other hardware platforms for the future, according to Chanoch. The company’s technology is already shipping on all of SGI’s Linux/Itanium-based servers, as well as on Apple’s Intel-based computers as the engine for Apple’s Rosetta translation software.

But virtualization also sparked a good deal of interest elsewhere at C3, with sessions on the topic pulling in strong participation.

Many users are still confused over definitions of “virtualization,” noted one analyst attending the show, Donald Haback of the Matterhorn Group.

Indeed, discussions at the show touched on a number of different approaches to virtualization. These included emulation, in which the virtual machine (VM) simulates the complete hardware; native virtualization, in which the VM simulates only enough of the hardware to allow operation of an unmodified OS in isolation; paravirtualization, where the VM provides a special API requiring OS modifications; operating system-level virtualization; and application virtualization, for example.

For its part, Intel intends to step to virtualization gradually, instead of in one full swoop, said Aaron Holzer, senior product marketing engineer in Intel’s Virtualization Strategy & Programs arm, during one of the sessions in a Red Hat-sponsored Linux track.

That way, it will be easier for software vendors to accommodate their software to changes in the hardware platform, Holzer suggested.

Meanwhile, though, Red Hat still expects to ship a Xen-based virtualized Linux server by the end of 2006, said Joel Berman, Red Hat’s product management director.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5 will come with built-in virtualization–based on work done in the open source community around the Xen project–along with the first elements of “statelessness” derived from the Fedora project, pointed out Nick Carr, Red Hat’s enterprise marketing manager.

“[RHEL] 5 will be about getting state to go away. [RHEL] 6 will be about managing [statelessness],'” Carr elaborated, in an interview with LinuxPlanet.

Carr told LinuxPlanet that RHEL 5 beta 2 with core Fedora, scheduled for availability in September, will give a good general idea as to which features will be included in the final shipping product. But he acknowledged that some of these capabilities still might need to wait for the next release of the Red Hat distribution, if they aren’t really ready in time for RHEL 5.

But despite the impending release of RHEL 5, only about 25 percent of Red Hat customers will start to use the built-in virtualization capabilities in 2007, according to Carr.

Also during the session, Alex Vasilevsky, VCP, CTO and founder of Virtual Iron, sparred lightly with Carr over the issue of paravirtualization, the virtualization method used in Xen. According to Vasilevsky, paravirtualization isn’t really necessary.

Red Hat rival Novell announced intentions last March to add support for Virtual Iron’s virtualization and management data center in SUSE Enterprise Linux Server 9.

Meanwhile, Xandros will definitely enter the Linux server virtualization ring, too, said Marc Bellefleur, the company’s product development manager, in a meeting with LinuxPlanet at Pepcom’s recent Digital Experience press event in Manhattan.

Xandros is now considering a variety of possibilities around virtualization, according to Bellefleur. “But the virtualization will be done on our [software] server product,” he added.

Meanwhile, on the Windows side, Altiris is now partnering with VMware in a virtualization effort separate from Microsoft’s own, said Christine Ewing, segment manager at Altiris, speaking with with LinuxPlanet at Digital Experience.

Launched in March, Altiris’ Software Virtualization Solution (SVS) is designed to abstract the installation of an application’s files and registry settings to permit the application to be installed without changes to the underlying Windows operating system.

Altiris will supply virtualization first on the desktop and then on Windows Server, according to Ewing. Ultimately, the resulting virtualized server will support applications built for Linux and other OS, running on top of Windows.

Yet when server virtualization does come to pass, will the base OS even matter?

“I’d say, ‘Yes,'” responded John Riley, director of marketing communications for Black Duck Software, another exhibitor at C3.

“[OS] vendors will differentiate themselves by adding value at the upper levels of the OS stack,” Riley said.

Asked the same question at the Digital Experience event, Ewing took a similar stance.

“Management and security will still be specific to the operating system,” according to the Altiris exec.

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