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Red Hat’s Virtualization Steps Forward

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Virtualization is a key technology for Linux vendor Red Hat which earlier this year outlined a broad new virtualization roadmap including new products and technologies.

Those efforts are now starting to bear fruit, with Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) this week indicating that it’s now entering the beta phase of deployment.

Red Hat’s new initiatives aim to position the Linux vendor as a leader in virtualization, challenging vendors like VMware and Citrix for market and mind share on both the server and desktop.

Though Red Hat’s new virtualization products are now in beta, however, they’re not available to everyone.

Navin Thadani, senior director for Red Hat’s virtualization business, told that the new products are now in a private, supported beta for customers and partners. Thadani did not provide details on when a public beta would be made available, and Red Hat has not yet announced general availability dates for the products.

The actual products that Red Hat is making available to its private beta customers include the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Servers and the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Desktops.

Most of the solutions are open source — but not all.

“The virtualization infrastructure (KVM, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4) is [open source], but the management system is not at this time,” Thadani said. “We will look toward open sourcing the management once we release a cross-platform version.”

At the core of Red Hat’s virtualization portfolio is the KVM hypervisor, which represents an alternative to Red Hat’s existing Xen hypervisor. Red Hat acquired KVM vendor Qumranet in September 2008 for $107 million.

While Red Hat is officially transitioning its new virtualization portfolio to beta, Thadani said that alpha deployments have been ongoing for a long time.

“With Qumranet, we got the management infrastructure products that were actually deployed at customer sites in production,” Thadani said. “Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization builds upon that foundation, so the products have been extensively tested.”

One of the challenges that will face Red Hat with its new standalone hypervisor is getting existing users of VMware or Xen virtual appliances to migrate. It’s not yet clear how Red Hat will transition those users either, though a plan is in the works.

“Tools and services will be provided to aid customers in the transition,” Thadani said. “Red Hat will announce more details later.”

As opposed to other hypervisor approaches that can be installed on top of existing operating systems — be it Windows, Linux or Mac — Red Hat’s standalone KVM hypervisor is a bare-metal approach.

“That’s not the purpose of a standalone hypervisor,” Thadani said. “On the other hand, you can install the standalone hypervisor on bare metal, and then run Windows and Linux guests on it. Mac is not officially supported at this time, though if you check the KVM wiki, you will see that it works on the KVM architecture.”

Server management

For the server piece, Red Hat customers today already have capabilities for basic management of their Xen virtualization environments. That effort’s going to get an upgrade as a result of the new offering, however.

“The Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager for Servers product significantly extends these individual technologies as the foundation and layers on a common management interface, thereby allowing a powerful set of features like image/storage management, clustering, [high-availability], Live migration, System Scheduler, Power Saver, etc.,” Thadani said.

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