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Red Hat's standalone hypervisor goes beta

RHEVing up

Commercial Linux distributor Red Hat threw its, er, red hat into the virtualization ring back in February when it announced it was creating a standalone Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor based on KVM to compete with the likes of VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix Systems. Today, that standalone hypervisor and the tools to manage it for servers and desktops moved into beta.

Red Hat said back in February that it plans to offer Enterprise Virtualization versions to carve up both desktops and servers, which came as no surprise to anyone considering that the company shelled out $107m in September 2008 to buy Qumranet, the creator of KVM. You don't spend that kind of money to sit on technology, unless you are IBM, Oracle, or some other heavyweight that can remove a technology and its threat to your base through an acquisition.

Scott Crenshaw, vice president of the Platform business unit at Red Hat, said in a statement announcing the beta that the beta program for Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) was "oversubscribed," but he did not provide any numbers about how many companies had been permitted to join the private beta program, which filled up almost as soon as it opened up, according to a spokesperson at Red Hat.

"We had a large number of slots that we wanted to provide supported betas for with both customers and partners," explained Navin Thadani, senior director of the Virtualization Business at Red Hat, in an email. "This crosses industry segments and geographies." Thadani was not at liberty to provide any numbers, but it is a fair guess that this is a relatively small, controlled beta.

The RHEV hypervisor is being designed to span up to 96 cores and 1 TB of main memory, which is the largest "Dunnington" Xeon 7400 box that Intel and its server partners can put into the field today and which is as large as next year's "Nehalem EX" Xeon 7500 servers are expected to span. (The basic Intel box using its "Boxboro" chipset will lash eight of the eight-core Xeon 7500s together into a single system image). The KVM hypervisor from Red Hat will be able to make a single partition span as many as 16 processor cores and up to 64 GB of main memory, which is double the CPU scalability of VMware's ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor. It can only span up to eight cores, but it can put 255 GB of memory on a single VM (That's not a typo. It is really 255 GB).

Red Hat is only creating one hypervisor, which the company believes it can cram down into a 64 MB memory footprint. It then adds the RHEV Manager for Servers to manage VMs deployed on servers or the RHEV Manager for Desktops, which deploys applications from central servers to virtualized desktops akin to what Citrix Systems is doing with its XenDesktop offering. All three of these components went into beta today, according to a Red Hat spokesperson. Qumranet had already done a lot of the work on the desktop product, which it sold as SolidICE before Red Hat acquired the firm.

Red Hat said back in February that it would take 18 months to roll out all of its RHEV products, and it said today that it was on schedule to deliver its first products for delivery later this year. Which products are coming first remains unclear. But given how SolidICE was already being sold into the market and the crankiness of server buyers, it would be reasonable to expect the hypervisor and the desktop manager to come first, followed by the server manager (which makes the hypervisor useful on servers) coming later after it has been put through tougher paces.

There are also certification issues to be wrestled with when it comes to RHEV, and this will also take time. A week before it launched its plans for KVM as a free-standing hypervisor, it inked an interoperability agreement with Microsoft that will see Red Hat support Windows Server instances on KVM and Xen hypervisors in RHEL 5 and RHEL 6, presumably with support for the embedded Xen on the wane as the KVM-based Enterprise Virtualization ramps up.

And while we didn't know it at the time, the Microsoft-Red Hat deal no doubt covers Windows instances running on the RHEV hypervisor and probably Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 running on the desktop implementation of RHEV.

What the parties said at the time was that the interoperability agreement covered RHEL 5.2 and 5.3 being certified for running atop Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor for Windows Server 2008 and Red Hat certifying that Windows 2000 Server SP4, Windows Server 2003 SP2, and Windows Server 2008 will all run Red Hat's on the hypervisor embedded in RHEL. Xen was the preferred hypervisor for these Linuxes, but KVM will be the default with RHEL 5.4 when it comes out later this year. RHEL 5.4 will use the integrated form of KVM, and it may not be the same exact KVM code being built for the free-standing RHEV product. Red Hat is not saying at this point. ®

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