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Red Hat still catching up in virtual server management

Recent reports indicate that Red Hat had bought virtualization management IP from Fortisphere. But with or without acquisitions, users say that Red Hat needs to step up its management game.

While Red Hat may be on the road to fleshing out its virtualization management product, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV-M), users say the company still has gaps to fill. Recent reports indicate that Red Hat has bought intellectual property assets from Fortisphere, a virtualization management software startup. But users and partners say that even with additions from Fortisphere, RHEV-M needs to mature.

RHEV-M was introduced in November, shortly after the company first made its version of the open source Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor commercially available. Red Hat has since announced that future versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) will support only KVM, not open source Xen. As a relatively late mover in the virtualization space, Red Hat is under pressure to catch up with peers, particularly when it comes to virtualization management surrounding its new hypervisor.

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Users note that Red Hat has already covered a lot of ground in a relatively short time, supporting functions such as live migration, fault tolerance and distributed resource scheduling. But compared with competitors like VMware and Hyper-V, and even other distributors of KVM, such as Novell's SUSE Linux and Ubuntu, Red Hat has far to go.

"Red Hat is moving fast and adding things almost daily. They know they have to catch up, and they're working hard to get there," said Greg Scott, chief technology officer for InfraSupport Corp., a firewall maker that is a Red Hat and a VMware partner. Scott works with four consulting clients that run Red Hat's KVM, all of which have a dozen or fewer virtual machines.

Scott said he's looking for Red Hat to match the market leader VMware in a few areas, including an interface into virtual switches. "VMware has a graphical interface that connects a workstation into virtual switches, in any configuration," he said. "It's not that nice yet with KVM and RHEV-M."

Similarly, when it comes to adding and deleting virtual machines, and their associated files, there's less flexibility than in competitors' environments. "If you delete a VM in RHEV, virtual disks associated with it are automatically deleted," Scott said. "Most of the time, that's what you want to do, but there's no dialog box that pops up giving you the option not to."

Finally, provisioning storage attached to Red Hat KVM hosts is inefficient, Scott said. A tool called virt-v2v, for example, which is slated for an official release with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6, is meant to make converting guests from Xen to KVM easier, but that migration process requires a networked storage pool separate from the source and target storage pools, used specifically for the conversion process. A separate Network File System device is also needed to hold installation files, Scott said.

KVM worth the cost?
But these problems can be addressed. "It's all fixable," Scott said, adding that the advantage to waiting on advanced features is that Red Hat KVM is about 20% of the cost of VMware in his clients' implementations.

Some companies, however, have found the open source pricing touted by Red Hat doesn't always work out to be cheaper than competitors. Kristofer Francisco, an IT professional for a Fortune 500 company, said he's evaluated Red Hat KVM as a potential alternative to his proprietary incumbent. "We're keeping an eye on it, but after the initial license purchase, they have you. … We wouldn't save much over the more mature product we're using now." Francisco said he'd like RHEV-M include a centralized update manager to patch multiple operating systems, and the ability to "hot-add" CPU and memory on the fly, before he'll consider making a move.

According to Gregory Rosenberg, the CTO for Red Hat value-added reseller RICIS Inc., the inability to change CPU and memory allocations for VMs on the fly with RHEV-M is a deal breaker for some of his customers, "especially if they need the ability to prioritize and load-balance virtual machines as workloads shift. [RHEV-M] should have the ability to dynamically shift resources when they're required."

Support for managing heterogeneous hypervisors is also something Rosenberg identified as a need. "Novell had support for migrating Xen to KVM virtual machines quite some time ago. SUSE has at least a year and a half lead in that space."

Carl Meadows, the senior product manager for cloud services at hosting and cloud services company The Planet, said he chose Ubuntu's KVM over Red Hat's mainly for more attractive service-provider pricing. But Meadows also cited a frequent objection from open-source loyalists to RHEV-M, which is based on IP Red Hat acquired with Qumranet, and currently only runs on Windows. "If Fortisphere gives them a pennies-on-the-dollar opportunity to pick something up, it could solve that problem."

Beth Pariseau is a Senior News Writer for Write to her at

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