LinuxWorld: Virtualization Bake-In Off and Running

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.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick 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?