Red Hat’s next OS release depends on achieving Xen

New trend of virtualisation featured in new upcoming version

Virtualisation was a hot topic at the recent Red Hat Open Source Symposium held in Auckland.

Red Hat’s virtualisation solution is the much talked about Xen technology, an open source hypervisor that can run multiple guest operating systems on the same hardware. This could be very useful when the aim is extract as much work as possible from a single system. The technology is supported by Novell, Microsoft, IBM, Sun and AMD, among others.

The Xen virtualisation platform will be included in the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, which is scheduled for the end of the year. Whether it is released then is dependent on whether the Xen project has reached the required level of performance determined by Red Hat.

According to Scott Crenshaw, Red Hat’s general manager of the enterprise Linux platform, there is no rush here.

“The release date will be determined by the quality of code [in Xen],” he says. “We don’t need to push out [the release] just to get the revenue from upgrades. If the product is not stable enough that might turn customers off Xen and we are committed not to [letting that happen].”

Red Hat’s philosophy is to deliver enterprise-ready open source solutions, says Crenshaw, who spoke at the Auckland symposium. Currently, Red Hat believes that the Xen project is not stable enough to go into production, says Crenshaw. He adds that Red Hat’s customers expect that when the company ships a product it is ready for use.

Crenshaw says that Red Hat is investing aggressively in Xen and that there have been significant improvements in the last couple of months. But, as it is now, the code needs refining, and the system is “simply not sufficiently bug-free”, he says.

“We fully support Xen, but we are also realistic,” he says.

Red Hat also has a close partnership with VMware, Xen’s main rival in the hypervisor-based virtualisation technology space.

“We will support customers who want VMware because we want to give customers choice and not lock them down,” says Crenshaw. “But we will also compete with VMware.”

“There is no way any proprietary company can compete with open source,” he adds. “I know it is a bold statement, but … today open source software is critical to enterprises. There is no other tool that is as cost-effective.”

Currently, Xen’s and VMware’s virtualisation systems are not compatible. This is because of Xen’s reluctance to support multiple forms of hypervisor-based virtualisation — for example VMware — according to a recent article in InfoWorld.

While Xen’s system is specific to Xen, VMware’s system could, potentially, support Xen. However, Crenshaw thinks that this situation will change.

“In general, it is better for the customer to have a common management interface, so, I think [Xen] and [VMware] will be compatible,” he says.

To make management easier, Red Hat drives the open source project libVirt, which aims to provide consistent management of virtual machines running on a server, says Martin Zierer, senior solution architect at Red Hat Australia- New Zealand. LibVirt will provide stable application programming interfaces which will allow other tools to be built and used on top of the libVirt layer, adds Crenshaw.

“The rate of development is so rapid, and there will be many improvements, but with libVirt there will be no instability for customers,” Crenshaw says.

The Open Source Symposium is being held in 14 cities across the Asia-Pacific region over the next two months. The aim is for it to become an annual event.

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