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Linux has virtualization ups and downs, power user says

Linux can match and outshine Windows in data center — thanks to its strong security, reliability, and long term usability — but it has upsides and downsides on the virtualization side, according to software engineer and Linux and VMware Server technologist Chris Berg. In this excerpt of our Q&A, Berg gives a power-user’s view of Linux’s strengths and weaknesses on the virtualization front.

“By providing a solid, low or no-cost platform out of the box, strong virtualization solutions abound on Linux,” Berg said. “Solutions such as Xen or VMWare ESX server put Linux on even ground…by offering a comprehensive virtualization solutions and easy to use interface.”

My interview with Berg is an offshoot of coverage of the recent LinuxWorld/Next Generation Data Center Conference. Getting connected with veteran users is the best thing about covering these shows, I think. So, here’s what Berg had to say.

In what ways will virtualization spur wider adoption of Linux on the server side?

Berg: A variety of both open and proprietary solutions are available for Linux including KVM, Xen, VMWare ESX Server. The cost of these solutions ranges from nothing up to tens of thousands of dollars. The benefit to a wide variety of virtualization solutions is that an organization is free to choose a solution that fits their needs. The variety of choices and costs is what will spur the adoption of Linux on the server side.

Whereas some Linux virtualization solutions are not “bare metal”, installed on an existing Linux server products, others such as VMWare ESX server consist of a fully-installed Linux distribution under the hood. This enables the ESX server to be maintained like an appliance, with little operating system level interaction.

In what ways will virtualization make no difference in adoption of Linux on servers?

Berg: The current virtualization trend does not translate to across the board adoption of Linux. In cases where a virtualization solution isn’t “bare metal,” there won’t be as large a push for Linux due to internal support staff’s familiarity with Windows servers. Due to the variety of solutions available for virtualization on Linux, there can be a variety of interfaces to maintaining an installed solution. This can be daunting for IT support staff and those seeking third-party technical support.

What technology or market trends will help increase Linux server adoption in the enterprise in the rest of 2007 and early 2008?

Berg: As the virtualization push continues, Linux server adoption in the enterprise will continue to increase. Either through a solution that relies on an installed Linux or a solution like VMWare ESX Server that uses Linux under the hood.

The continued push for higher value offerings will see Linux continue to be deployed in essential services roles, such as providing DNS, DHCP, proxy services and continuing into the application server space as many independent software vendors continue to invest in Open Source.

In general, what barriers stand in the way of adoption?

Berg: One of the largest barriers to Linux server adoption in the enterprise is the back room nature of Linux success stories. In many large enterprises Linux is deployed on the server and performs capably, but the word never gets out.

Help spread the word about Linux and virtualization by telling us about your deployments. Comment here, or write to me at

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I just received a note from Justin Grote, a senior systems engineer, who corrects a misconception about VMWare ESX and Linux. Here's what he had to say: "Thanks for your post on Linux virtualization ups and downs, it was very well written. I’d like to make a correction in that VMWare ESX server does *not* run Linux under the hood. VMWare ESX Server runs on its own proprietary kernel developed initially at Stanford. The service console used to manage ESX is a heavily modified Red Hat however, and is what most people see, so this is a very common misconception."