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Cloud, Linux vendors cash in on KVM-based virtualization

Vendors such as Red Hat and Google provide products that rely on KVM technology, but picking the right vendor depends on admins' choice of OSes and cloud providers.

Vendors such as Red Hat, IBM, Canonical and Google rely on KVM-based virtualization technology for many of their virtualization products because it enables IT administrators to execute multiple OSes on the same hardware. As a result, it has become a staple in IT admins' virtual systems.

KVM was first announced in October 2006 and was added to the mainline Linux kernel in February 2007, which means that if admins are running a Linux machine, they can run KVM out of the box.

KVM is a Type 1 hypervisor, which means that each individual VM acts similar to a regular Linux process and allocates resources accordingly. Other Type 1 hypervisors include Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V, Oracle VM Server for x86 and VMware ESXi.

Which vendors offer KVM?

Red Hat represents the largest commercial Linux distribution with full support for KVM-based virtualization in terms of company size. IBM's acquisition of Red Hat in 2019 furthered Red Hat's enterprise reach to include IBM's full hardware portfolio.

The openSUSE distribution is another commercially supported offering with full support for KVM-based virtualization. Both companies offer their products as part of a paid subscription service, which includes full tech support and frequent updates.

Ubuntu is another popular open source, Linux distribution offering KVM-based virtualization and has found more support from the hobbyist and education markets. Admins can purchase support directly from Canonical or other third-party companies to customize the distribution. Overall, admins are essentially running the same software on all the services because they rely on the Linux kernel.

Choosing the best KVM option depends on admins' primary choice of OSes and cloud providers.

Virtual Machine Manager (virt-manager) remains the primary open source GUI management tool for KVM-based virtualization. Virt-manager uses libvirt for all communications within the KVM system and supports Xen and Linux containers.

Proxmox and SolusVM are additional vendors for consideration. Proxmox is a free software that provides support services for an additional cost, while SolusVM provides a commercial offering with a price point that starts at $10 per month. SolusVM offers support for KVM, OpenVZ and Xen.

Cloud vendors' support for KVM

IBM uses KVM-based virtualization as the underlying virtualization layer for its cloud offering, IBM Cloud. Plus, both the OpenStack project and oVirt use KVM as their default hypervisor. Any vendor that offers OpenStack, such as Rackspace, relies on KVM as a part of its product.

Amazon traditionally relied on Xen for its infrastructure, but in the last several years, Amazon has started to roll out new offerings, such as C5 instances on Elastic Cloud Compute, which is based on KVM technology.

Google also uses KVM-based virtualization as the foundation for its Google Compute Engine (GCE) and Google Container Engine products. For example, Google uses the base KVM code and adds layered security on top. Google also does not use QEMU, which is the user-space VM monitor.

GCE supports both Linux and Windows VMs and provides quick-start documentation to help admins bring their Windows workloads to the Google Cloud Platform.

How to choose the best KVM option

Choosing the best KVM option depends on admins' primary choice of OSes and cloud providers. For example, the choice is pretty clear for existing Red Hat or IBM customers. If admins are just looking for options besides Amazon or Microsoft, they might want to consider GCE.

Ubuntu is a viable option for those looking to thoroughly asses KVM as a virtualization system in a test setup. Ubuntu offers the best self-service option that won't cost much except for admins' time.

The CentOS Project is another contender, as it shares the primary code base with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which makes it a good choice if admins are looking to move to Red Hat for production.

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