Red Hat Buys Virtualization Vendor Qumranet


The acquisition provides Red Hat with an entry into the nascent desktop virtualization software market, but raises questions about Red Hat's future use of the Xen server virtualization technology that's built into Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.

"We see this as the opportunity to get in on the next generation of virtualization," said Paul Cormier, Red Hat's president and executive vice-president of products and technologies. Unlike such vendors as VMware and Citrix that sell virtualization software as standalone products, Cormier said Red Hat -- like its rival Microsoft -- consider virtualization to be part of the operating system.

Red Hat plans to incorporate Qumranet's Kernal Virtual Machine (KVM) into its flagship Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat currently embeds the open-source Xen Hypervisor, now controlled by Citrix Systems, in Red Hat Enterprise Linux for server virtualization. KVM is also built into Fedora, the community-supported version of Linux sponsored by Red Hat.

In June, Red Hat announced that it was developing a lightweight, embeddable Linux hypervisor, based on the Qumranet KVM, for hosting Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Microsoft Windows environments. That hypervisor is currently in beta and due out by early 2009, Cormier said.

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In a series of FAQs posted on its Website Red Hat said it will continue to implement Xen within Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 and the company "will support Xen until at least 2014," seven years after the release of that operating system. But the FAQs also say "no decision on timing for the transition from Xen to KVM has been made."

Cormier also stressed that because Red Hat supports the Libvert virtualization API abstraction layer, management tools and applications written for Red Hat Enterprise Linux incorporating Xen will run on future versions of the operating system that use KVM, when Red Hat goes that route.

But Red Hat sees Qumranet's SolidICE virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product as the real catch, given that the fast-growing desktop virtualization software market is estimated to be as big as $1.8 billion. SolidICE enables a user's Windows or Linux desktop to run in a KVM virtual machine hosted on a central server.

SolidICE is currently not available as an open-source product, but Cormier said Red Hat intends to open source the product's Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments (SPICE) technology that connects virtual desktops with the KVM virtual machine.

Businesses today are likely to provide users with desktop PCs loaded with premium applications for which software licenses must be purchased, said Craig Bauman, vice president of sales at Qumranet, who spoke to Everything Channel last month. "Our concept is to look at the computing environment, find the commodity user roles, and provide them with the right computing environment for their needs," he said. "If someone is just sitting at their desk routing tickets, do they need the full premium load?"

Qumranet lets businesses provide a computing environment that's specific to user needs, including a template of the user environment integrated with Microsoft's Active Directory, Bauman said. If the user moves, or a new user is added, or a user needs software patching, it is all handled from a single location. "But to the user, it feels as if they have their own desktop," he said.

The primary difference between Qumranet's Solid ICE and the desktop virtualization initiatives from other companies with hypervisor-based server virtualization like VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft is that those companies focused on the virtual server environment first and then added desktop virtualization using protocols like RDP and ICA, Bauman said. "The protocols they use are sufficient for administrators to look at the server environment. But for users used to high-speed desktop performance, it doesn't work."

That is the weak point of desktop virtualization, Bauman said. "The push-back will come from the end user. If they have a bad user experience, they won't accept the environment and will be unhappy. We make sure users think they are using fat loaded desktops," he said.

At the time of the acquisition Qumranet was expanding its channel base in North America with the goal of moving 80 percent of its business through channel partners by the end of the year. It was recruiting partners that derive 60 percent to 70 percent of their revenue from software and services. "We don't desire to get into professional services," Bauman said. "We're in the business of selling software. So we need partners to work with."

Cormier also touted Red Hat's gain of the Qumranet development team through the acquisition.