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Red Hat bares RHEV roadmap, fate of the hypervisor

Red Hat is adding features to its virtualization software to stay competitive, but is also worried about staying relevant as the industry moves to embrace cloud and containers.

BOSTON – Red Hat gave users a glimpse into the future of its RHEV software at a roadmap session that included upcoming features and an admission that the company expects its hypervisor to eventually lose market share to containers and cloud.

The company expects to release Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) 3.6 by Q4 of this year. Version 3.6 won’t include any flashy updates over 3.5, which debuted in February, but will contain some requested updates and important performance improvements, said Scott Herold, principal project manager at Red Hat, Inc., during the company's annual conference here this week.

Among the new features in RHEV 3.6 is live migration compression for certain workloads, VM affinity improvements and the ability to assign physical PCI devices to individual VMs. Another upcoming feature Herold highlighted was the ability to hot-add memory to a running VM – a feature other major hypervisors still lack. When a VM runs out of virtual memory, most modern hypervisors can borrow unused memory from other VMs on the host, a process called memory ballooning. If the hypervisor cannot reclaim enough memory to meet the VM's demands, it can swap memory pages to disk – an alternative that impacts performance.

"There's no faster way to kill your performance than where these limits in the hypervisor and guest don't work," Herold said. "Our approach is, let's stay away from that entirely. In RHEV 3.6 we'll have the ability to hot-add memory to meet the demand. …. Adding and pulling memory as needed is much cleaner."

Sanjeev Saldhi, systems engineering manager at the non-profit electric utility California ISO, said the ability to hot-add memory was just one of several feature additions that caught his eye during the technology preview. His company isn't a RHEV customer, but Saldhi was at the conference researching the virtualization management software as a cost-cutting alternative to VMware.  

"We've had an issue in the past with VMware using ballooning," Saldhi said. "It looks like using this feature we could avoid the ballooning of the memory."

OpenStack, containers and the ill-fated hypervisor
The technology roadmap session also included information on proposed features for RHEV 4.0, which Herold said is slated for a Q2 2016 release. Among other features, 4.0 will build on the theme of previous releases with tighter OpenStack integration. Red Hat's continued focus on OpenStack was welcomed by some attendees, including Jürg Gerber, deputy CTO at Puzzle ITC, a Switzerland-based IT service provider.

"I think what's interesting is you can combine RHEV and OpenStack to build an infrastructure as a service for the whole data center for traditional workloads and the cloud," Gerber said. "You can use OpenStack for some types of workloads but you can't deploy everything though OpenStack."

Red Hat's Herold echoed this sentiment saying the company envisioned RHEV and OpenStack working together within the same environment to deliver IT services.

"If you every hear someone say they're going to bring in OpenStack so they can get rid of hypervisor 'A,' it's a losing strategy. It's not going to happen," Herlold said.

However, he did admit that some workloads would move to OpenStack and the company's hypervisor and virtualization management software face other serious challenges.

"We're very well aware that traditional enterprise virtualization is going to lose market share. We're going to lose that to one of two places. It's either going to be cloud instances, or we're going to lose it to container technology," Herold said. "What we don't know is how fast these changes are going to come into play. We may need to fundamentally change our approach to enterprise virtualization."

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