IBM's Open Virtualization Alliance, oVirt and KVM Update

IBM has placed itself in a leadership role in the X86 virtual machine software market through its investment in KVM, OVA and oVirt.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

I have to admit that I've been a bit remiss. IBM held an analyst briefing on the topic of open virtualization technology and KVM in the hopes of keeping the analyst community up to date. I was traveling to Ohio to speak at the Buckeye DAMA chapter meeting and wasn't able to comment on the event until now.

Before IBM could ramp up and discuss what it is doing to take part in the promotion of the use of the Linux Kernel-based virtual machine (KVM), it had to explain a number of different organizations; KVM, the Open Virtualization Alliance; and oVirt; and what they did.

What is KVM?

The KVM organization describes the technology in the following way:

KVM (for Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is a full virtualization solution for Linux on x86 hardware containing virtualization extensions (Intel VT or AMD-V). It consists of a loadable kernel module, kvm.ko, that provides the core virtualization infrastructure and a processor specific module, kvm-intel.ko or kvm-amd.ko. KVM also requires a modified QEMU (a fast X86 emulator).

Using KVM, one can run multiple virtual machines running unmodified Linux or Windows images. Each virtual machine has private virtualized hardware: a network card, disk, graphics adapter, etc.

The kernel component of KVM is included in mainline Linux, as of 2.6.20. KVM is open source software.

What is the Open Virtualization Alliance?

The Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) describes itself by asking and then answering the following questions:

What will the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) do?

Foster the adoption of KVM as an enterprise-ready open virtualization solution. This entails ecosystem, marketing and educational activities. We'll document and promote best practices for KVM adoption and showcase usage stories to illustrate successful KVM adoption. We'll also encourage the development of a third-party ecosystem around KVM, including ISVs. And we'll help educate the market on the capabilities and benefits of KVM.

How do the activities of the OVA relate to the open source development of KVM?

The promotional activities of the Alliance are intended to complement the process and structures already in place in the open source community while also recognizing that software, technology roadmaps specification and development will continue to take place within those community processes.

How will member companies benefit from the formation of the OVA?

The member companies are all part of the Linux® and virtualization ecosystems. Our businesses leverage open source solutions, so all will benefit from increased KVM adoption. Improving awareness of KVM as an enterprise-ready open-virtualization solution will also help users understand their options when adopting virtualization.

So, in summary, OVA is doing its best to build a complete ecosystem of hardware, software and professional services that rests upon the foundation of the kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) that can be found as a standard part of Linux from version 2.6.20 on.

What is oVirt?

oVirt describes itself the following way:

The oVirt Project is an open virtualization project for anyone that cares about Linux-based KVM virtualization. Providing a feature-rich server virtualization management system with advanced capabilities for hosts and guests, including high availability, live migration, storage management, system scheduler, and more.

oVirt is an comprehensive ecosystem of projects delivering a complete integrated platform on a well defined release schedule. These are components designed and tested to work together.

In addition oVirt provides a crucial venue for user and developer cooperation, and is the first truly open and comprehensive data centre virtualization management initiative.

What did IBM have to say?

Now that we've trudged through all of the introductory material, let's focus on what IBM had to say about what it is doing to support KVM, OVA, and oVirt. IBM was proud to point out that it is one of the founding members of all three of these organizations. It then went on to discuss OVA membership and its growth, what IBM has been doing in virtualization and the opportunity it sees for the growth in use of KVM.

OVA membership

IBM pointed out that OVA membership had growth to 241 members, that's an increase of 4 members since the last update IBM gave analysts. The membership is broadly spread throughout the world. Although the largest number of members can be found in the U.S. (10), other countries are represented as well. Germany (10), Canada (9), France (9), the UK (8), Japan (7), Spain (6), Brazil (5), Israel (5), as well as 22 other countries.


IBM discussed the creation of oVirt to create a standard development and management environment for KVM-based solutions. It also pointed out that Red Hat, Intel, Canonical, SUSE, NetApp, and Cisco were founding members.

IBM's role in virtualization

IBM then went on to discuss its role in the creation of virtual machine software and virtualization in general. It offered a time line starting in 1967 when virtual machine software first became part of IBM's mainframe environment. It jumped to 1997 when similar capabilities were added to IBM's power-based systems running AIX. Intel and AMD joined the party in 2005 by adding essential microprocessor features needed to efficiently support virtual machine software. In 2006, IBM and Red Hat started investing in the creation of an open source virtual machine software manager. In 2007, KVM was launched. OVA appeared in 2010 and iVirt was created in 2011.

While this timeline was interesting, I noticed that VMware's appearance in 1998 and Xen's introduction in 2004 were not noted.

IBM's view of the KVM opportunity

IBM went on to describe the opportunity it is addressing in its support of KVM, OVA and iVirt.

IBM pointed out that Windows systems are being placed in virtual machines at a far more rapid pace than Linux systems. It also pointed out that when Linux servers are being placed in virtual environments, a mix of hypervisors are being selected. This, the company points out, is an opportunity to intercept the market with KVM.

I believe that there is something else operating here besides the mix of availability hypervisors — culture.

When Windows NT first became available, it was soon learned that it was wise not to mix multiple workloads on a single physical system. Version mismatches, DLL conflicts, and other issues made it highly advisable to separate workloads to assure higher levels of availability and reliability.  Even though Microsoft has made great strides and Windows is now quite able to support multiple workloads simultaneously, the Windows culture is to place each application and application components on different servers. The use of virtual machine software on Windows was an attempt to consolidate these workloads and reduce the cost of hardware.

Linux comes out of a different culture — UNIX. Linux was designed to mimic the capabilities of UNIX, an operating system with a long history of successfully supporting multiple workloads without problems. Users of Linux didn't often feel the need to add an additional layer of software to consolidate workloads. "That's a Windows problem," they would say.

Virtual machine software was used in a Linux environment to consolidate Linux and Windows workloads on a single system. It is now becoming more common to deploy workloads in virtual machines to increase levels of agility and increase system optimization.


IBM then went on to discuss its investments in KVM technology and the fact that KVM is available on both IBM's System x, System x blades in an IBM zEnterprise Bladecenter, .

IBM is also supporting KVM as a tier 1 virtualization technology. IBM System Director VMControl supports KVM, Tivoli system management solutions support KVM, and IBM Cloud Solutions (IBM SmartCloud Enterprise and IBM Research Compute Cloud) use KVM

IBM's System x family of X86-based systems have been designed to optimize the use of KVM-based virtual machines as well.

IBM then went on to present a number of client case studies showing how KVM is being used to address major customer requirements.

Snapshot Analysis

IBM is investing heavily to make KVM and its ecosystem successful while continuing to be partners with both VMware and Citrix. I believe that is because IBM believes that it will succeed at a higher level when there are a number of choices at the hypervisor level.

IBM, having placed itself in a leadership role in the X86 virtual machine software market, expects to gain benefits as standards emerge for APIs for management and virtual machine software extensions. These standards would tend to help IBM sustain and grow all of its platforms as the company adds these APIs and extensions to all of its platforms.

IBM would also be able to optimize its investment in management software, development software and both professional and cloud computing services as these standards are implemented by other hardware suppliers as well.

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