Thursday, September 04, 2008

Red Hat Escalates Hypervisor Wars

Red Hat today announced the acquisition of Qumranet, the company behind the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) bare metal hypervisor. With this acquisition, Red Hat is escalating the already fierce battle that is raging for control of the software layer that is rapidly replacing the general purpose OS as the access layer for hardware infrastructure. Qumranet is a very savvy acquisition by Red Hat because it plays to their strength as the primary maintainer of low level Linux kernel technology. The Linux kernel is a mature, high performing provider of hardware driver capability, and there is no doubt in my mind that it can become a significant competitor in the bare metal hypervisor space.

Given all of the competitive noise surrounding hypervisors these days – the Microsoft Hyper-V launch is next week followed by VMworld the following week – the stakes in this game are enormous. It represents a fundamental shift in the architecture for both server applications as well as desktop applications. No more will the general purpose OS be the table stakes for releasing or “certifying” an application to run in the customer's environment. Instead, the hypervisor is going to be the target, and applications will arrive pre-configured and ready to run as virtual machines with Just Enough OS (JeOS or “juice”) attached to provide system services and a connection to the hypervisor. Indeed this new architecture is one of the driving forces behind the concept of cloud computing. Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is enabled by the Xen hypervisor, and the new CEO of VMware, Paul Maritz, has sounded off time and again about the importance of a cloud computing architecture since taking the helm of VMware.

Red Hat's new, aggressive move in this space is good news for customers who will inevitably embrace this cloud approach for enabling the flexible, elastic datacenter. It means that there will be more competition for the hypervisor design win, which translates to better features, better performance, and lower cost. This type of bare-knuckle competition is what the software market is all about, and customers are the big winners in this fight.


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