Linux specialist Red Hat has announced it is developing an embedded hypervisor product that it claims will complement, rather than compete with, its existing virtualisation strategy.
Launched on the first day of the company's annual user conference in Boston, the Embedded Linux Hypervisor is currently in beta, and no commitment has been made as to when the product will eventually ship or how it will be distributed to customers, Red Hat said.
"This is the first Linux-based, fully open-source hypervisor. We see this announcement as one way to extend virtualisation into the entire enterprise," said Paul Cormier, president of products and technology at Red Hat. "This is the next-generation operating system. We should be talking about virtualisation and operating systems in the same package."
The Embedded Linux Hypervisor is founded on the Kernel-Based Virtual Machine (KVM) project, which has been integrated into the Linux kernel since 2006. Red Hat has claimed KVM supports live migration of virtual machines from system to system in real-time and also has high availability features.
Red Hat's main virtualisation push so far has been centred on the open-source technology Xen, which is now a Citrix product. The company's main enterprise Linux product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL 5), has integrated virtualisation based on Xen.
When pushed on whether the announcement of the KVM-based embedded hypervisor means that the company sees a limited future for its relationship with Xen, Red Hat executives maintained that the company is keen to maintain both technologies, to give customers different choices over how to manage their virtualisation tasks.
The company also claimed that it has not decided on how the Embedded Linux Hypervisor will be distributed to customers — whether it will be integrated into future releases of RHEL, for example. Red Hat added that, for now, the beta version can be downloaded from the oVirt website.
Xen's origins lie in University of Cambridge research that was eventually spun out to create the XenSource organisation, which develops and maintains the open-source virtualisation technology in conjunction with Red Hat, Novell and other community software organisations.
Red Hat's latest virtualisation announcement will be seen as another move against virtualisation specialist VMware, the market leader for the technology. Some analysts believe VMware's approach, based around proprietary software not coupled to an operating system, is vulnerable in the long term.
"Much as it has in the operating system and relational database systems [arena], open source is poised to have a disruptive impact on the virtualisation space, lowering costs for customers and offering alternatives to proprietary lock-in," said Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst with RedMonk.
However, despite Red Hat's continued drive to integrate virtualisation into its Linux distributions and characterise virtualisation as just another feature of the operating system, it is not clear whether end users are attuned to that approach.
Recent research around attitudes to server operating systems, conducted by ZDNet.co.uk, revealed that many end users are still wary of implementing virtualisation and, when they do so, still view it as separate technology from the operating system.
With survey respondents asked to rank operating-system features in order of importance, virtualisation came last, in eleventh place, with scalability, high reliability and identity management taking the top three positions.
However, despite not viewing virtualisation as a key feature for server operating systems, respondents cited virtualisation and consolidation as key server-management tasks in the next five years.