Open Source Virtualization: No Reason To Celebrate

Six months after the Open Virtualization Alliance launched, Linux-based KVM hasn’t gained on VMware, Microsoft, or Citrix.
Saying that KVM is like Linux, to me, is a non sequitur. If KVM is successful, it will not be because it's like Linux but because it is a well-designed part of Linux. It is both a value-add to and co-dependent with the operating system. Just because it is part of Linux doesn't mean that it's going to get used; if it maintains a performance advantage, on the other hand, and builds out a management environment, it may find itself being used where Linux is--in the enterprise data center and in the cloud. Although part of Linux, KVM can run virtual machines using any x86 operating system, including Windows.

The reason to celebrate the Open Virtualization Alliance is because it's throwing a spotlight on a dark horse option, far back in the race, but a horse with great potential. For greater enterprise acceptance, companies need to see what KVM can do, have its features and characteristics documented with stories of successful implementations, if they exist. KVM still lacks street cred among many users, who have been preoccupied with the Microsoft vs. VMware question.

If KVM is legitimately in the race, users of server virtualization are less likely to end up locked in to a single vendor environment. Some migration capabilities already exist among hypervisors, but KVM's existence as open source code makes it more likely that migration capabilities will increase. It makes it more likely that transfers from one virtual machine format to another should one day be routine, along with the ability to use multiple public clouds instead of being restricted to a single type.

KVM still lacks a complete management environment, but the growing OVA alliance says third parties, such as VKernel, are lining to supply pieces of it. VMware is threatening to run off with operations management in the virtualized part of the data center; IBM, HP, BMC and CA Technologies, the traditional systems management vendors, are all part of the OVA alliance and can be assumed eager to bring competing management capabilities to KVM.

VMware is setting a high standard for the managed, virtual machine environment. Microsoft and Citrix are racing to match that standard. But there's room for still another player, one that offers a distinct and non-proprietary choice.

The Open Virtualization Alliance needs to learn from the experience of its Xen project predecessor. It needs as open and active a development community as possible. Xen struggled with the perception that it was a project too much dominated by the interests of large vendors. The same fate could befall KVM, and Red Hat will need to guard against it.

In the past, VMware has shown an adeptness at competing with open source code, coming up with free versions of ESX Server and low-cost ways to get started with its product line just as a new open source initiative appeared. But the fully virtualized environment is getting so complex and expensive that some space has emerged between proprietary options and open source.

KVM, as GPL code, exists as a viable alternative with its support from independent developers and its positioning inside Linux. If Red Hat and third parties show they are capable of supplying a management environment around it, KVM is going to get a significant push from the likes of Intel, BMC, CA Technologies, and HP. The latter is contributing code to improve the capabilities of monitoring and managing KVM virtual machines through HP's Insight Control systems management product. Likewise, Insight Control can feed information back into Microsoft Systems Center or Red Hat's virtualization management console or other management systems, allowing KVM to fit into a larger data center picture.

In this fashion, an open source option allows virtualization to contribute to the more efficient operation of the data center. Performance efficiency of virtual machines is a larger factor than it used to be. KVM appears to shine on performance and a competitive open source option helps keep a thriving and innovative segment of the industry on its best game.

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