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December 2, 2008

KVM virtualisation in Red Hat Linux next year

New era for Linux virtualisation

By Jason Stamper

Red Hat will be in a position to offer Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM), the open source virtualisation it garnered with the acquisition of Qumranet, in the first half of 2009.

Asked by CBR when Red Hat will be able to offer the KVM technology as part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the firm’s president and CEO Jim Whitehurst said it is “highly likely” that it would be during calendar 2009 but would not be drawn further.

Later at the same press conference, vice president EMEA Werner Knoblich seemed to have strayed from the official script, when he appeared to accidentally state that the work on integrating KVM with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) would be ready in the “first half”.

To date, the virtualisation capabilities in RHEL come thanks to the open source Xen hypervisor. Red Hat has already stated that it will continue to support Xen until at least 2014 (seven years after the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5).

But it has also stated that, “We believe that KVM offers the next generation of virtualization technology, so we wish to offer it to our Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers. However, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 will continue to implement Xen and no decision on timing for the transition from Xen to KVM has been made.”

Red Hat’s recently announced Embedded Hypervisor, currently in Beta, is based on KVM. KVM is also provided today in Fedora, the Red Hat-sponsored, open source, Linux-based operating system.

Red Hat appears to be in a tricky situation. While it believes that having the virtualisation technology down in the kernel a la KVM is architecturally superior, it is committed to supporting those customers that have already built their infrastructures around Red Hat Linux with Xen.

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According to Whitehurst, KVM is superior to Xen because as part of the kernel it is able to inherit RHEL’s security schema, which was developed in conjunction with the CIA, and has been certified by the Russian military to the highest levels.

“When it comes to distributed computing, KVM is miles ahead because it takes advantage of the hundreds or thousands of man years that went into the work behind the [University of Wisconsin’s] Condor project,” Whitehurst said.

“If you are doing virtualisation because you want server consolidation, then Xen works great, VMware works great,” said Whitehurst. “But if you are talking about thousands of virtual machines, and the ability to move them around, and do all that complicated stuff – securely – then you get all of these benefits with KVM because the virtualisation is part of the kernel.”

As well as getting its hands on the KVM technology with the acquisition of Qumranet in September, Red Hat also got its SolidICE virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology.

It looks likely that when Red Hat does have KVM ready to ship as part of RHEL, that will be the preferred option, at lest in terms of green-field customers. Existing customers may opt to stay with Xen, and Red Hat has little option but to continue to support them. Officially, Red Hat’s website states that, “No decision on timing for the transition from Xen to KVM has been made.”

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