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10/6/2008
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Red Hat To Adopt Qumranet Desktop Virtualization Products

The KVM engine may offer some efficiencies in running virtual machines that Citrix XenServer and VMware's ESX Server lack, Red Hat said.

Many observers of virtualization in the data center believe that the next step will be to virtualize desktops on central servers as well.

If that day is coming, Red Hat wants to offer the option of virtualizing desktops from a Linux server as well as Windows Servers.

That's one reason it recently bought Qumranet, a desktop virtualization vendor with several novel features in its approach, for $107 million. Qumranet is an Israeli startup whose lead developer, Avi Kivity, submitted the KVM hypervisor engine to the Linux kernel process in 2006 and saw it quickly incorporated into the kernel last year.

The KVM engine may offer some efficiencies in running virtual machines, since it makes use of kernel functions, such as a scheduler, rather than duplicating them outside the kernel, the way Citrix XenServer and VMware's ESX Server do. Tapping kernel functions "absolutely makes for virtualization efficiencies," said Mike Ferris, director of product management for Red Hat's acquired Qumranet product line.

An additional potential efficiency is the Qumranet-created Spice protocol, or Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments. If a central server is going to provide speedy desktops to hundreds or thousands of end users, it needs a remote desktop protocol that functions better than the one provided by Microsoft, RDP. Both Citrix XenSource and VMware have come up with improved protocols either on their own or through third parties. With Spice, Red Hat gets a chance to compete in presentation delivery over the network as well.

Red Hat will adopt Spice and the product set that uses it, Qumranet's SolidICE, and make them part of its core product line, said Katrinka McCallum, Red Hat's VP of management solutions. SolidICE generates KVM virtual machines on a central server, assigns them to end users based on a desktop controller or connection broker embedded in it, and sends a presentation over the wire to be displayed to the end user in a thin client or repurposed PC.

SolidICE contains some features that give it a different approach to desktop virtualization. For one thing, it assigns self-servicing to end users, within a set a guidelines and policies. This allows end users to create the kind of the desktop they want within their privilege level, without asking IT for it. For Windows users, integration with Microsoft's Active Directory will supply the privilege level for the process.

"You can leverage the Windows environment or integrate with Red Hat's own identity management suite," said Ferris.

But so far the Red Hat execs acknowledge they are talking about the future, as far as Red Hat Enterprise Linux is concerned. KVM may be in the latest Linux kernels, but those kernels haven't gone through the full vetting and testing process that gets one of them incorporated into Red Hat Enterprise Linux. KVM is not part of the current Enterprise Linux 5.0, released in 2007, but it's likely to be part of Enterprise Linux 6.0, Ferris said.

Desktop virtualization is still "an early-stage market. The number of virtualized corporate desktops is still very low," said McCallum.

Red Hat hopes to be a player with its Spice protocol and ability to supply a virtualized desktop to both Windows and Linux users. "It's an exciting time because the numbers are still so low," McCallum added.

In Enterprise Linux 5.0, the virtualization engine of choice is open source Xen. Both Novell and Red Hat have added support to their enterprise kernels for Xen to run effectively, outside the kernel. Now Red Hat will have to persuade virtualization adopters that running the hypervisor engine inside the kernel offers advantages over external engines in the tricky high-performance world of desktop virtualization.

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