oVirt at Last

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2011-11-15

Quite a few years back, I wrote a column titled "At Long Last, Lindows" about much-hyped arrival of the consumer-targeted spin of the Debian GNU/Linux operating system on Walmart computers. This was in the early 2000's, when development of Microsoft's Windows was gummed up by a series of security snags, and an eventual "Year of the Linux Desktop" seemed more a possibility and less a punchline than it does today. After many months of buildup, during which time I refrained from writing about the consumer Linux challenger, I finally had a chance to get my hands on the product (later renamed to the less Microsoft-offending moniker Linspire) and share my thoughts.

Over past couple of weeks, I've been having similar feelings about oVirt, a new open source challenger to VMware vSphere, based on the code from Red Hat's forthcoming RHEV 3.0.

When x86 virtualization began taking off, I kept a close eye both on VMware, and on the group of open source projects aimed at grabbing a share of VMware's soaring popularity. In particular, I kept wondering when Linux leader Red Hat would do for server virtualization what it had done for server operating systems. When would Red Hat produce a rival to VMware's virtualization throne that would be licensed and developed openly enough to allow for the sort of ecosystem of collaborators and competitors that's grown up around Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

In 2007, when I reviewed RHEL 5, the time for an open competitor to VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 seemed near, but VI3 gave way to vSphere 4, and then to vSphere 5, and while low level components open source virtualization components thrived, the open source effort to pull those pieces together into something that a Debian or a Gentoo could roll up and offer to its community--or that an Oracle could rebrand and productize--remained elusive.

At last, oVirt has arrived, born out of Red Hat code contributions, but with an independent governance structure that ought to allow for other organizations to take up the project and help move it forward, in the way that Canonical eventually took up Debian GNU/Linux to produce an Ubuntu Linux desktop slick enough to break into Dell's preloaded operating system option list in the years after Linspire's prospects faded.

I can't help but wonder, however, what the passage of time and the changes in the market may have done to oVirt's opportunity to unseat VMware. Today, talk of the desktop has been obscured by focus on tablets and smartphones, and Ubuntu seems to have slipped from Dell's online store.

With the new focus on the cloud, does oVirt face a slimmer window of opportunity as well?

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