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Red Hat to include Xen virtualization in next Linux release

Linux software giant Red Hat has announced plans to include virtualization technology in its next version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Open source software company Red Hat has announced that the next major release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) will feature a fully integrated server virtualization capability. The Raleigh, N.C.-based Linux giant plans to include technology from its open source virtualization tool, Xen, in the next release, scheduled for late 2006.

The Xen technology is currently integrated in Red Hat's free version of Linux, Fedora. The production version will be RHEL 5.

Many analysts, including Tony Iams, a vice president and senior analyst with Rye Brook, N.Y.-based Ideas International, predict that Xen would be included in the Linux infrastructure.

"It's been fairly clear that Xen was destined to become part of the standard Linux kernel," Iams said.

Virtualization everywhere

But Linux isn't the only operating system going virtual.

Industry experts believe virtualization -- software that allows IT organizations to provision operating system images into platform-agnostic pools of processing and storage capacity -- will be built into every layer of IT within the next five years.

EMC subsidiary VMware cornered the initial market on x86 server virtualization, but the rest of the IT vendor community is not far behind.

Microsoft has its own version of virtualization and is reported to be building the technology into the next version of its operating system, Longhorn. In addition, Hewlett-Packard has expanded its virtualization offerings. And Sun Microsystems also has its own version of virtualization and partnered with VMware earlier this year.

There are several startups in the space, including Intel-backed Virtual Iron Software, Inc. and XenSource Inc. Also, some major companies that historically had little to do with virtualization are getting involved in the technology. Networking giant Cisco Systems started promoting technology it acquired earlier this year to virtualize at the network level. IT resource management company, BMC Software just launched a management tool for the virtual environment.

And according to reports, Advanced Micro Devices has unveiled details regarding its virtualization efforts at the chip level. Codenamed Pacifica, AMD said the technology reduce the complexity of hypervisor software and offer better performance from virtualization technology. Intel has a similar project in the works.

Meanwhile, Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC recently reported that virtualization technology will saturate the market sooner than expected. IDC said widespread adoption will take place over the next one to two years, not a five- to 10-year gradual market shift as in other technology areas. According to IDC, customer satisfaction with virtualization technologies is extremely high. Survey respondents currently using virtualization expect 45% of new servers purchased next year will be virtualized. More than 50% of all virtual servers are running production-level applications, including the most business-critical workloads.

The virtual value-add

According to Iams, this explosion of virtualization technologies has made virtualization management the main differentiator amongst companies. "Xen gives you the basic capability to run numerous OS images on a server, but to make it truly useful you need management tools."

How big should your virtual machine be? Which machine should it run on? How do you manage your load balancing? Those are the issues that virtualization companies will be tackling in the coming months.

According to Iams, VMware has added a lot of value in this area and it's where he expects Red Hat to differentiate itself as well.

"There are a lot of people looking at the management angle from IBM to HP to VMware," said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata. "There's lots of noise about everyone being complementary with everyone else's technology, but it's mostly proprietary software."

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But Haff doesn't expect Red Hat's management tools to be able to compete with major players right away.

In fact, Haff and other analysts said the open source virtualization technology isn't ready for production class software yet at all. While the excitement over Xen is building, experts warn that the technology is still in its earliest phase.

"Xen is an intriguing technology, but it's still relatively immature," said Charles King, principal analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research. "If you're coming up with a product for commercial use, customers are going to ask if the benefits outweigh the risks. It's a problem that's come up in open source before."

The Xen code in the Fedora release is officially designated as unstable, Haff said. And it's going to take some work on Red Hat's part to get it up to speed, even if that means not including it in the next version of RHEL as planned.

"Red Hat won't include it in RHEL if it's not a stable product," Haff said. "There's still a lot of work required to get Xen to the point of production use."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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