LinuxWorld: Virtualization Bake-In Off and Running

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-04-02 Print this article Print

Red Hat, Novell and a host of other Linux players are lining up to add virtualization technology into the OS kernel, but the reaction is mixed. Is open-source virtualization a threat to VMware?

Amid a growing cacophony of demand, the two largest Linux vendors, Red Hat and Novell, plan to bake virtualization into their enterprise products slated to ship later this year. But technology managers are mixed on the approach. The bake-in revolves around the Xen hypervisor, an open-source virtualization application that allows multiple operating systems to run concurrently on the same server. If the efforts are successful, virtualization could run in the background of operating systems, notably Linux. The rub: Xen is changing rapidly and may be too raw for enterprise use.
Nevertheless, the move toward open-source virtualization tools is having an impact on some industry leaders and could help make virtualization ubiquitous just as enterprises are clamoring for more ways to save money on infrastructure.
For instance, VMware, of Palo Alto, Calif., in what some say is a nod to Xen, will use the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in Boston the week of April 3 to announce that it is sharing, license-free, its core virtual machine format and specification—technology customers use to manage, patch, update and back up virtual environments. Also, companies such as XenSource, Dell, Microsoft and Advanced Micro Devices will be showing off their virtualization wares at LinuxWorld. Click here to read about AMDs planned virtualization demonstration at LinuxWorld. Dan Chu, VMwares senior director of developer and ISV products, said the move to share its format and specification is another step in the companys push to create a larger ecosystem around virtualization. Included in the companys VM spec are virtual disks, which are the containers for the disks used by the operating system running in a VM. A standard format for virtual disks would help preserve users configurations as they move among VMs from different vendors and would enable software makers to create products that run with any virtualization offering, Chu said. Meanwhile, the clamor for virtualization among technology managers is palpable. "I cannot have a conversation with someone today without the topic of virtualization coming up," Chris Burry, technology infrastructure practice director at Avanade, in Dallas, told eWEEK. "One of its greatest attractions is that it gives senior corporate decision makers another tool for optimizing their environments and driving the greatest value out of their IT investments." Joseph Foran, director of IT at FSW, in Bridgeport, Conn., agreed, saying virtualization is "infectiously contagious" because it can be added to infrastructure without ripping out existing hardware. Robert McInerney, North American IS infrastructure manager for TRW Automotive, in Livonia, Mich., and a Novell customer, said it is promising that the industry is embracing virtualization on many fronts. "This will make a larger number of applications and operating systems compatible in that environment," McInerney said, adding that TRW is continuing a virtualization effort that began last year. Pervasive virtualization However, the devil is in the details. At issue is whether virtualization technology should be lumped into an operating system. "The Linux-with-Xen and Windows-with-Virtual-Server approaches do not appeal greatly to our organization," Foran said. FSW uses products from VMware for its core server infrastructure and to run many of its legacy applications on user desktops. Using VMware offerings allowed FSW to cut hardware costs by 75 percent, Foran said. For potential customers such as Foran, Red Hat, of Raleigh, N.C., and Novell, of Waltham, Mass., may have some explaining to do. The two vendors will use LinuxWorld to explain why the Xen hypervisor technology is essential to making virtualization pervasive on Linux. "Our goal is to make virtualization as pervasive as possible, and we will do whatever we have to so that can happen," said Brian Stevens, Red Hats chief technology officer. Stevens, who claimed 80 percent of Red Hats customers are "jazzed" about Xen, said the company plans to build virtualization into its server products. "The benefits of virtualization are clear: There will be large cost savings, as server utilization can be driven from 20 percent to 80 percent, with the resultant savings in space and power bills, as well as the reliability it brings and the ability to migrate and isolate workloads in the event of system failure," Stevens said. Despite that rosy outlook, there are lingering questions about Xen technologies, which are essentially still under development and not yet ready for prime time, say critics. Indeed, Red Hat officials recently acknowledged that Xen is not ready to be submitted for inclusion in the mainstream Linux kernel. Next Page: Is Xen ready for prime time?

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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