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Red Hat KVM: A bold vision

BOSTON — Is Red Hat’s move to KVM bold and forward-thinking, or does it show a lack of strategic vision?

That’s the question our virtualization columnist Mark Vaughn asked me on Twitter yesterday as I covered the Red Hat Summit here. My 140-characters-or-less response was, “It’s definitely bold, and they clearly have a vision. The real question is, has Red Hat bet on the right horse?”

That’s a pretty good summary of Red Hat’s virtualization efforts and its shift from Xen to KVM, but let’s break it down in more detail:

It’s definitely bold: KVM is just three years old. (It debuted in Linux 2.6.20 in 2007.) Only one other vendor — Canonical, with its Ubuntu Linux distribution — supports KVM. And KVM operates a lot differently than the kind of virtualization you’re used to from VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, etc.

As far as strategies go, aligning yourself with a relatively new technology that has almost no market penetration takes some intestinal fortitude.

They clearly have a vision: That said, Red Hat didn’t choose KVM just to be different. I definitely got the sense at the Red Hat Summit that the company’s execs and engineers believe in this technology. Time and time again they stressed the benefits of KVM (mostly around the efficiency you get because KVM is part of the Linux kernel).

Navin Thadani, senior director of Red Hat’s virtualization business, even implied that the company was never crazy about Xen (which it had supported in previous Red Hat Enterprise Linux versions.)

“When we did Xen in RHEL in 2007, it was the only thing out there,” he said.

Has Red Hat bet on the right horse? Here’s the million-dollar question. Being bold and having a vision will only get you so far.

Despite some of the technical benefits of KVM, it also has its drawbacks, which you can read about in our Xen vs. KVM face-off. (Little support from platform and management vendors and a lack of advanced features top the list.) But the biggest obstacle isn’t on the technology side. It’s on the customer side. VMware, Microsoft, Citrix (and even Oracle and other smaller vendors) have quite the head start, and migrating to KVM isn’t exactly a piece of cake.

Red Hat could definitely find some KVM success among its core open source base, but it’s a long way to the top if they want to rock ‘n’ roll in the virtualization market.

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