When Microsoft open sourced its Linux drivers for Hyper-V under the GNU General Public License this week, Linux...
and open source aficionados' jaws dropped. But in virtualization circles – even among some Hyper-V users – the news was met with much less surprise or enthusiasm.
But at the University of Plymouth in the U.K., where about 10% of 250 servers run Linux, the promise of not having to manually install drivers in Linux guests isn't enough to lure the university from VMware, said Adrian Jane, the infrastructure and operations manager. "It's not a case of 'This is only way you can get Linux working with these kernel-mode drivers,'" said Jane. "With VMware, it's a pain, but we use templates so you really only have to do it once." Furthermore, drivers for the main Linux distros like Red Hat, CentOS and Ubuntu are readily available from VMware's website, he said. Jane did say he would evaluate Hyper-V next year, as he prepares for the university's servers to come off lease in 2011. When comparing Hyper-V against VMware, functionality will be his main criteria, followed by performance. "So far, from a technical standpoint, I haven't seen anything that makes me think, 'Oh, I have to have Hyper-V," Jane said. But, he added, "Microsoft has historically been very good at catching up." It's also unclear how quickly Microsoft's code donation will bear fruit. Practically speaking, mutual-support agreements that Microsoft signed with Novell Inc. and Red Hat Inc. mean that the necessary drivers for running SUSE or Red Hat are already available, said Chris Wolf, a senior analyst at Burton Group. For other Linux distributions to take advantage of the drivers, maintainers will either need to backport the drivers in to the current distribution, or users will have to wait for the next version that relies on the new kernel. "We could easily be talking beyond a year before we see the results of this announcement," Wolf said. Toward a driver library
For most virtualization users, a more meaningful contribution on the part of the vendors would be a generic driver library that all vendors could contribute to, Wolf said. "Long term, a standards-based project could control the driver libraries" and supply a framework that would work with all the major hypervisor platforms, he said. That would be especially useful in the context of cloud computing. "Ideally, I want a cloud provider that supports any hypervisor without having to do a migration," Wolf said. Standards efforts around virtualization are nascent, Wolf said. The Open Virtualization Format helps," he said. Add to that better transparency between the vendors' virtual disk formats, plus the afore-mentioned generic driver libraries, "would really crack it open," he said. In the meantime, the availability of the Hyper-V Linux drivers in the mainline kernel could have another unintended consequence. "It could really help grow the market for Linux virtual appliances," he said. And that, in turn, could help the biggest virtual appliance vendor out there: VMware.
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