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Red Hat KVM deployments face uphill battle

A year after Red Hat declared sole allegiance to KVM, many shops still face logistical hurdles to putting the Kernel-based Virtual Machine hypervisor into production.

BOSTON --Attendees at last week’s Red Hat Summit said that they are evaluating Red Hat’s latest virtualization products, but production deployments are scarce.

Familiarity  plays a role in terms of adopting a new virtualization technology.

As of Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 6 (RHEL 6), the company has focused its virtualization efforts on the Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor and the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV-M) management stack. But RHEV and Red Hat’s version of KVM still lack some of the advanced features available in competitor offerings, such as graphical user interface (GUI)-driven conversion tools, the ability to hot-add infrastructure components and storage live migration.

Most users at Red Hat Summit said they believe KVM will eventually reach technical parity with competitive hypervisors, especially with help from upstream open source projects. But reaching technical parity may not be enough.

VMware, Xen firmly rooted
VMware was the first server virtualization software to become commercially available, and Windows workloads were the first to be widely virtualized. In some environments, this pattern continues to dictate the choice of hypervisor, regardless of technical and pricing comparisons. At the conference, Red Hat officials acknowledged that most Red Hat KVM customers are VMware users.

Kristopher Hague, the lead information systems engineer at paper and packaging manufacturer Boisie Inc., said he’d like to go with open source software throughout his company’s 300-server environment, but Windows admins have other ideas. “The group that went to virtualization first went to VMware, and VMware’s what they’re comfortable with. It’s totally a political thing.”

VMware’s ties with data center infrastructure also make the technology “sticky.” According to one senior architect at a transportation company in the Southwest, his networking team is loath to relinquish the Cisco Nexus 1000V virtual switch. There is now an open source virtual switch available, but “our networking group speaks IOS on Cisco, and they’re not going to learn another operating system for a virtual switch,” the architect said.

Familiarity also plays a role for attendees, who said they still have yet to make a move away from Xen, Red Hat’s previous choice of hypervisor.

John Gosset, a software consultant at a Montreal-based firm, said that KVM is making its way into clients’ environments, but only in new virtualization projects. The libvirt management utility can be used as a single interface to manage Xen and KVM, so it’s not managing mixed environments that’s holding KVM back. Rather, it’s the prospect of converting from something known to the unknown. “As for the conversion process to KVM, we haven’t done any of that,” Gosset said. “Xen is something that’s installed and working, and we like to leave infrastructure that works in place as much as possible.”

In other cases, application dependencies are making Xen stick. “We’re tied in with using a lot of Oracle products, and the Oracle virtual machine is also Xen-based,” said Joseph Hoot, lead programming analyst for Buffalo State College. Though he’d like to use the native Linux hypervisor under RHEV, “To migrate off [Xen] we’d need time to convert. … We also know how Xen works, and it’s stable.”

"We’re tied in with using a lot of Oracle products, and the Oracle virtual machine is also Xen-based."

Joseph Hoot, lead programming analyst,  Buffalo State College

Users who want to convert from existing hypervisors also say this is still easier said than done with Red Hat’s current tools. There is an upstream physical-to-virtual (P2V) tool being developed, but so far only VMware and Xen virtual-to-virtual (V2V) conversions are officially supported within RHEV. The libvirt virt-v2v utility has only just made it into Fedora 14.

Doing conversions through the libvirt virt-v2v command line interface can be “drama prone,” said Dinesh Raghavan, a senior technology manager for a systems integrator. “I would prefer something natively GUI or wizard-driven.” It’s possible to perform conversions using the scripting tools, but “when you’re in the trenches, there often isn’t time.”

Red Hat officials pointed users who want to avoid CLI tools in the direction of partner Acronis Inc., which offers GUI-based conversion tools supporting KVM.

Red Hat shows recognition, but not resignation
Red Hat officials say they recognize that RHEV and KVM are going up against incumbent virtualization products in users’ environments. This is part of the impetus for the company’s CloudForms beta product, which was announced at the recent summit. Company officials say CloudForms’ Deltacloud application programming interface will manage heterogeneous hypervisors, as well as public cloud servers and physical machines.

“It all fits in the framework of being open. If you don’t like a particular layer [of the infrastructure] … our architecture offers choice and flexibility,” said Navin Thadani, senior director of Red Hat’s virtualization business.

Thadani acknowledged that VMware has come to dominate Windows environments but notedthat most of the world’s workloads still aren’t virtualized. Windows servers tended to be less utilized and less mission-critical than Linux servers to begin with, making them ideal candidates for the first wave of virtualization, Thadani said. “CIOs are asking their Linux teams to do the same thing right now, and this dynamic is allowing us to break into accounts.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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