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Virtualization vendors jostle for position in wake of Red Hat's virtual play

Virtualization market leader VMware has critiqued Red Hat's integrated virtualization program as inefficient, but other vendors see this move as a positive play for the market.

VMware Inc. reacted quickly to Red Hat's integrated virtualization roadmap this week, which uses open source Xen instead of VMware. Meanwhile, Red Hat Inc. chief technology officer Brian Stevens said VMware is still a key partner, while other virtualization players refused to choose sides.

Virtualization market leader VMware takes the stance that efficient virtualization can only be achieved with operating system independence, while others -- like San Francisco-based Linux clustering vendor Penguin Computing Inc. -- took a more optimistic wait-and-see approach.

"If you want to partition a server or run a legacy operating system, the functionality may reside anywhere. Enterprise virtualization, on the other hand, is about deploying virtualization as a core IT strategy for OS/application provisioning, sever consolidation, mobility, disaster recovery and systems management across all OSes, applications and hardware," said VMware vice president of data center and desktop platform products Raghu Raghuram.

Raghuram said that this can be done only with an OS-independent virtualization layer. Of the 20,000 VMware customers, close to half run multiple x86 operating systems on their virtualized environments. "Their success in slashing operational costs and gaining operational flexibility could only be achieved with OS-independent virtualization," he added.

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Raghuram's statements appeared to be at odds with those of Red Hat's Stevens, who said that while VMware would remain a strategic partner with his company, the "heavy lifting" required to make VMware environments work well with enterprise Linux has proved costly.

"[It is] very costly for us because we are basically trying to integrate into a black box, and when our team ends up dealing with performance or support problems or bugs and flaws, it is very difficult to complete root cause analysis because you can't see into the VMware technology itself," Stevens said.

The opaque nature of VMware led Red Hat to pursue a platform with complete transparency both for support and for the community so that developers could design a better application that straddled both sides of the fence. "You see that happening already," Stevens said. "You are seeing Xen changes that are within the kernel. There is give and take on both sides and you just don't get that with a proprietary environment."

Penguin, the other player in the Linux virtualization space, was also optimistic about the news.

Penguin Computing's senior vice president for product development Pauline Nist said performance issues were still going to be a concern, but the fact that a company like Red Hat was taking the initiative in driving implementation of enterprise virtualization could only be seen as a positive note for the industry.

"For us at Penguin, with our clustering, this announcement will allow us to have multiple virtual machines on our compute nodes," Nist said. However, she said, the hidden gem of the announcement was the containers discussion. "The interesting bit is this ability to have a single instance of the OS and make it look like a server and also be lighter."

Nist also believes that in the months leading up to the official release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL5), interesting dynamics would arise among the various players in the virtual space.

"It will be interesting to monitor these relationships. Red Hat didn't say they have a business relationship with Xen, but we should expect one to develop [later in 2006]," Nist said. "I think it will be fascinating to see the feedback from the various stakeholders, which ranges from a wide set of people from Microsoft to VMware, XenSource, and others." editor Jan Stafford contributed to this article.

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